Title ADOPTION OF COUNCIL TAX SECTION 13A DISCRETIONARY RELIEF POLICY EXECUTIVE MEMBER FOR RESOURCES

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1 Purpose: For Decision PAPER E Committee EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE Date TUESDAY, 24 MARCH 2015 Title ADOPTION OF COUNCIL TAX SECTION 13A DISCRETIONARY RELIEF POLICY Report to EXECUTIVE MEMBER FOR RESOURCES EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. This report sets out the council s proposed framework for delivering its powers to grant discretionary relief to reduce council tax under provisions set out in Section 13A of the Local Government Finance Act This provides the council with additional discretionary powers to enable it to reduce the council tax liability where statutory discounts, exemptions and reductions do not apply. 2. The adoption of a discretionary reduction in council tax liability policy will enable the council to consider requests for assistance from council taxpayers who, through no fault of their own, have experienced a crisis or event and for whatever reason means they fall outside of the normal rules for council tax reductions or exemptions. Applicants will therefore be expected to have exhausted all other options before making an application under this policy. Officers will similarly consider whether alternative actions could or should be applied before instigating a reduction under this policy. 3. This policy is designed to consider only exceptional circumstances, where it is considered appropriate and fair to provide a discretionary reduction in liability. 4. When determining if a discretionary reduction can be awarded, the council will consider each application on its own merit and principles of reasonableness will apply in all cases. In addition consideration will be given to the period of any reduced liability in conjunction with the circumstances of the council taxpayer. 5. Any decision made will be without reference to any budgetary considerations; however, any decision to provide a discount must be balanced against the needs of local taxpayers who will ultimately subsidise a further reduction in council tax income. BACKGROUND 6. Section 76 of the Local Government Act 2003 introduces Section 13A Billing Authority s (Power to Reduce Amount of Tax Payable) into the Local Government E - 1

2 Finance Act This allows a billing authority to reduce the amount of council tax payable to such an amount as it thinks fit, including reducing the amount to zero. This power may be exercised in relation to individual cases or by determining a class of case. A class of use is where several people who pay council tax fall into a group because their circumstances are similar, for example where council taxpayers have had to leave their homes due to flooding. The Local Government Act 2012 inserted a new section 13A in the Local Government Finance Act 1992, and this creates two discounts: Local Council tax Support schemes under 13A(1) (a) and (b); and 13A (1) (c) which is effectively the original 13A discounts that the council can use to increase reductions already given under Local Council Tax Support Scheme. The implications under 13A (1) (a) and (b) were considered and agreed by Full Council on deciding the Local Council tax Support Scheme to replace council tax benefit from 1 st April The Collection Fund (Council tax Reductions) (England) Directions 2013 mean that from 1 April 2013, only discretionary discounts under section 13A (1) (c) will continue to be borne solely by Isle of Wight Council. 7. The Isle of Wight Council currently has 69,704 domestic properties and could receive many applications for reductions. In order to process applications quickly while ensuring consistency in approach and giving due consideration to the financial implications, applications must be in writing or electronically to the Revenues and Benefits Service. The revenues manager will determine individual section 13a (1) (c) reductions up to a limit 2, per financial year and with a maximum of 6,000; any reductions above this amount will be referred to the managing director. 8. The system of delegation will ensure that proper and consistent consideration is given to all applications by officers, the financial implications are considered and that members have the final say in deciding on creating specific classes of reductions. 9. The recommended policy will enable the council to consider individual requests from council taxpayers suffering exceptional hardship, for a reduction in the amount of council tax payable; this can include reducing the amount to zero. The policy will also provide the ability to determine a class of case should the need arise, for example in the case of flooding. By following the guidelines in the policy it will ensure that there is a clear and transparent process that is adhered to. STRATEGIC CONTEXT 10. The award of section 13A (1) (c) reductions as outlined in this report is most closely linked with the corporate aim of a healthy and supportive Island and the corporate priority of supporting older and vulnerable residents. E - 2

3 CONSULTATION 11. There is no duty to consult in relation to this as it is concerned with procedural matters rather than award criteria and each case will be considered on its own merit and where all other methods of exemptions, discounts and reductions have been exhausted. FINANCIAL / BUDGET IMPLICATIONS 12. The loss in council tax revenue resulting from the granting of a local discount or a reduction must be met by the billing authority and not passed on to other major precepting authorities. There is no budgetary provision for meeting the cost of any such award and therefore council tax payers will fund any reduction that is granted. LEGAL IMPLICATIONS 13. The authority to determine individual applications under section 13A may be delegated to an officer of the authority under section 101 of the Local Government Act Members should also be aware of an ombudsman case which held that Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council failed to recognise and accept that it could not fetter its discretion to reduce an individual s liability for council tax by having a blanket policy that would never allow a reduction and that it failed to consider and reach a decision on an individual s request. 15. The recommendations in the ombudsman s report concluded that council s must consider and reach a decision on a request and must establish internal arrangements for how such requests will be considered and decided. The council is free to reach any decision that it believes fit on any request provided that it reaches such a decision properly. EQUALITY AND DIVERSITY 16. It is important that all taxpayers are treated fairly and the council seeks to collect all monies that are properly due. An equalities impact assessment is attached at Appendix B. 17. The council as a public body is required to meet its statutory obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to have due regard to eliminate unlawful discrimination, promote equal opportunities between people from different groups and to foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it. The protected characteristics are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. 18. The equality impact assessment did not identify any impact to the protected characteristics and this policy seeks to provide short term assistance to council taxpayers that have experienced a crisis or event causing exceptional hardship where statutory reductions cannot be claimed. E - 3

4 OPTIONS 19. There are two basic options in respect of the introduction of the council tax section 13A (1) (c) Discretionary Relief Policy; RISK MANAGEMENT a) The draft council tax section 13A (1) (C) Discretionary Relief Policy is agreed. b) The draft policy is amended or an alternative policy is written and approved. 20. Administering section 13A (1) (c) discretionary council tax reductions is considered to be low risk. Existing management systems and daily routine activities are sufficient to control and reduce risk. EVALUATION 21. The introduction of a council tax section 13A Discretionary Relief Policy provides the council with additional discretionary powers to enable it to reduce the council tax liability where statutory discounts, exemptions and reductions do not apply. 22. This policy is designed to consider discretionary relief only in exceptional circumstances, where it is considered appropriate and fair to provide a discretionary reduction in council tax liability. This policy takes into account the impact on individuals, the council s priorities in supporting the most vulnerable and the impact on council tax collection if discretionary relief is not considered. 23. The recommended option enables the council to support council taxpayers who are experiencing hardship and must establish internal arrangements for how such requests will be considered and decided. 24. The alternative option would delay compliance with the local government ombudsman s recommendations and leave the council open to potential challenge RECOMMENDATION Option a) - The draft council tax section 13A (1) (C) Discretionary Relief Policy is agreed. Option b) - The draft policy is amended or an alternative policy is written and approved. E - 4

5 APPENDICES ATTACHED 25. Appendix A Proposed section 13A Discretionary Policy 26. Appendix B Equality impact assessment Contact Point: Vicki Guildford, Revenues Manager, Ext Dave Burbage Managing Director Councillor Ian Stephens Executive Member for Resources E - 5

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