05:00PM, Wednesday 24 February 2021
The poorest in the Royal Borough face a reduction in their council tax discount – despite protests from councillors about the legitimacy of the decision.
At a full meeting of the council on Tuesday, members discussed the Royal Borough’s consultation on the 2020/21 Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS), which was found to be unlawful.
CTRS offers a discount in council tax to residents in low-income households who struggle to pay. The Royal Borough proposed to reduce the discount from 91.5 per cent to 80 per cent.
In the face of concerns about the legitimacy of the proposal, Councillor David Hilton (Con, Ascot & Sunninghill), lead member for finance, said that acknowledging that the consultation was unlawful did not require the Royal Borough to change its decision.
However, opposition councillors remained unconvinced.
Cllr Helen Price (The Borough First, Clewer & Dedworth East) said: “We the members should have been informed that we had made a decision based on an unlawful consultation – but we were not, and we were not informed it had cost us £40,000 in legal costs.
“We were told this consultation was to be rerun and it was to be taken to scrutiny panel, but it wasn’t.
“I fear we’ve got it wrong again and if this is approved tonight, I fear it is inevitable we will be challenged again.”
Cllr Price also expressed concerns over the use of a Government council tax hardship fund as a ‘mitigation’ for the change.
“What will be used as mitigation when the fund is withdrawn by central government, say in 2022/23? And is it right that local government can use central funds to mitigate discrimination?” she said.
CTRS is received by 2,600 residents in the Royal Borough but only 27 of them (one per cent) responded to a consultation.
Of the 191 responses overall, 59 per cent did not agree with the reduced discount.
Councillors expressed concerns about this low response rate, given the significant financial impact on the poorest in the borough.
Cllr Geoffrey Hill (The Borough First, Oldfield) was among those concerned about the impact, calling it ‘woefully unfair.’
Cllr Hilton replied: “If all else fails, the council has existing powers to reduce the amount which a council tax-payer is liable to pay. That safety net remains.
“We’re not hard-hearted people – if there is significant requirement it will be supported. We will target our support, make our support go as far as possible to the people who need it most.”
The council voted in favour of the suggestions to reduce the CTRS discount, with 21 voting for and 19 against.
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