Sunday 8 December 2013

Council responds to complaint over Council Tax Support Scheme consultation

Brent Council has responded to the complaint by Robin Sivapalan on behalf of residents that its consultation on the Council Tax Support Scheme was not advertised widely enough and gave inadequate time for responses. The council wants to keep the controversial current scheme with some small statutory changes.

Here is the Council's reply:

Dear Mr Sivapalan,

I refer to your complaint about the way we are consulting on Brent’s Local Council Tax Scheme for 2014/15. Firstly, I would like to make you aware that we have extended the consultation period to 13 December.

The consultation that is currently under way is on the proposal not to change the Local Council Tax Scheme agreed by full council last year (except for statutory changes to the prescribed scheme for pensioners and a minor amendment to explicitly include a specific group as vulnerable and therefore protected from paying at least 20% of their council tax which had not been made clear in the original scheme for 2013/14). There
is no requirement for an Authority to consult each year on its local scheme if there are only statutory changes, but we felt that we did want to give residents an opportunity to make comments so decided that we would run a web-based consultation.

Although we had made a number of stakeholders aware of the consultation process during network and partner meetings over recent weeks, we hadn’t formally written to advice agencies before this week. As you acknowledge, this was due to a genuine oversight for which I apologise, however on that basis, we have extended the consultation period for a week as mentioned above to allow those that had been unaware on the consultation an opportunity to comment.

I regret that it is not possible to extend the consultation to the end of January, as you request, as the Council is required to determine its scheme for next year before the end of January.

As your complaint makes significant reference to those affected by the current scheme, I consider it appropriate to comment on the current scheme and how we have tried to help our residents during what we all agree has been a difficult time. Firstly, I must point out that there cannot be a reinstatement of the previous Council Tax Benefit (CTB) scheme as this was a national scheme funded by central government that has now been abolished. The scheme that we are proposing to carry forward into 2014/15 was the subject of extensive publicity and consultation last year including the following::

 · Publicity on the Council’s website and a special email account set up for queries;
· Text messages to 2694 existing Benefit claimants;
· Emails to 1770 Benefit claimants;
· A leaflet issued with 13,000 Council Tax bills;
· Meetings and presentations to over a dozen organisations including Mencap, Citizens Advice Bureau, Help Somalia Foundation, Private Tenant Rights User Group, Older Persons Partnership Board, Brent Housing Partnership, Brent Mental Health User Group, Willesden Mosque and representatives from Lynton Close Travellers Site;
· Emails to 600 Area Consultative Forum members and 640 Citizens Panel members;
· Paper copies of leaflets and documentation in all Brent libraries;
· Features on the consultation in both the May and July 2012 editions of the Brent Magazine and publicity in the local media including the Harrow Times and the Brent and Kilburn Times;
· Presentations to 267 residents at the five Area Consultative Forums;
· Letters and emails to all partner organisations in the borough;
· A wide range of posters and other publicity throughout the borough.

Following the consultation period and full council’s agreement for the scheme, we wrote to all our customers in advance of the start of the scheme, and included a special advice leaflet in all our year end bills where CTB was in payment. Officers embarked on an extensive exercise to speak to as many of the customers affected as possible especially those who were likely to have to pay something towards their council tax for the first time. Where we were unable to contact the customer by phone, we wrote to residents affected inviting them to contact us so that we could explain the scheme and how it affected them and also to discuss how best they could meet their financial obligations. We also made arrangements to allow council tax to be paid in 12 instalments rather than the normal 10 to help spread the cost.

We have continued to try and engage with residents since the introduction of the scheme and take a sympathetic view with customers who are trying to pay their council tax.

Where residents are also affected by other aspects of the government’s Welfare Reform programme – the overall benefit cap or the bedroom tax restrictions - we have often been able to offer assistance with their housing costs.

Finally, in respect of the current consultative exercise, I do not believe that the process has been unreasonable and certainly meets or exceeds our statutory obligations.

We shall treat all responses seriously but will be subject to both time and financial constraints when considering any proposals for changes.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Monkley
Subsidy & Policy Manager


1 comment:

trevor said...

I Don't Know About You But I Know I Have Not Pleased Everyone Since I was Born.
That is Partly Due To Making Mistakes Which Then Caused People To Complain Rather Than Rejoice.
Other Times It Was Due To Simply Being Selfish And Inconsiderate and Not Stopping To Think How The Person(S) Would Feel?
In The Case Of This Tussle Over What The Council Failed To Inform The Public,
Well only The Council Can Answer That.
But Whether The Public Would Believe Them is Questionable to Say The Least.
and Why?
because I Think It Is Safe To Say That They Are Used To Being Misinformed and I Think They are More Likely To Respond in a Way That Reveals How They Feel Inside
Which is a pity but again I Think We Should Try To Remember That Even When We Intend To Be open and Honest and Upfront and all those Positive Things We can Still Make Mistakes.
But It Seems as If the Council Have Reaped What They Have sown in This Case
and Should Try As Much As Possible To Not Repeat It.
After all The Public Are Already stressed with Many Things and This Just adds to Their Frustration.