Plans to offer 100 per cent Council Tax discounts have been given the backing of Wealden’s senior councillors.
Yesterday (Wednesday 8th), Wealden District Council’s Cabinet endorsed proposals to alter the authority’s Council Tax reduction scheme, introducing greater discounts for the District’s lowest income households from April.
If approved at an upcoming Full Council meeting, the move would mark a significant change, as, for the past 10 years, no working age person in Wealden has been able to receive more than a 80 per cent discount on their Council Tax bill.
This system came as a result of changes introduced in 2013, which saw the national council tax benefit replaced with local discount schemes run by individual councils. At that time, Wealden — along with most other local authorities — adopted an approach which saw all households required to pay some amount of money, no matter how low their income.
The Council now considers that approach to be flawed, however, as more and more households have been left unable to pay.
Cabinet member for Finance & Benefits Councillor Neil Waller (Crowborough South West) said:
This scheme will support those in the greatest financial distress at this time, irrespective of council tax band, and crucially for me it will support the working poor at this time.
Crucially other precepting authorities — East Sussex County Council, the fire [service and police — responded positively during the consultation process.
We have to be very careful not to prejudice the finances of those other precepting authorities by doing this and we have ensured that will not happen.Cllr Waller (Con)
Double Council Tax charged on empty homes
To achieve this, the 100 per cent discount would come alongside changes to the amount of Council Tax charged to long-term empty homes.
Currently, any property owner who leaves a home empty and unfurnished for more than two years will be required to pay a 50 per cent premium on their Council Tax.
The new system, if implemented, would increase this to 100 per cent, rising to 200 per cent if a property is left empty for more than five years and 300 per cent after 10 years. For clarity this would mean a home left empty for more than two years would be required to pay double the standard council tax bill and four times as much after more than 10 years.
Such premiums may prove difficult to collect in practice, however, as property owners can currently class an empty property as a second home (and pay no extra Council Tax) as long as it is “substantially furnished”.
During the same meeting, cabinet members also endorsed budget proposals for the upcoming year.
These proposals, which will also go to a Full Council vote, include a 2.99 per cent increase in Wealden’s share of Council Tax — a figure which equates to a £6.05 increase on a Band D household’s annual bill.
Meeting papers warn that further 2.99 per cent increases are planned to continue year-on-year until 2028 as part of the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).
The MTFS also sets out plans to make around £2m of new savings by 2028. The first savings (of £250,000) are not expected to fall until the 2025/26 financial year, however.
Cllr Waller said:
The Council is trying to protect the Council Tax payer as much as it can, but it does have to increase Council Tax by that 2.99 per cent. The rationale behind that is the Council needs to keep its general reserve at an acceptable level … judged to be £3m.
At the start of the MTFS [general reserves sit at] £5m. At the end of the MTFS it is still £5m … but it is only £5m after you’ve taken into account the savings. If those savings weren’t achieved it would be £3m.Cllr Waller