The general principles underpinning the pan-Essex approach to introducing the new system to replace Council Tax Benefit have been endorsed by Essex County Council.
The plans have been developed to ensure a co-ordinated transition to the new Local Council Tax Support Scheme (LCTSS) from next year as part of the Government’s reform of the welfare system.
Under the LCTSS each of the borough, district and City councils in Essex, who are the billing authorities, along with Essex County Council, will receive funding from the government to provide support with Council Tax bills.
Nationally this funding will be 10 per cent less than the current allocation. However, the impact of a growth in caseloads and the need to provide for contingencies means the actual funding reduction will be nearer 15 per cent – as a result Essex authorities will receive a total of around £14m less next year.
Any spending over this amount will need to be covered by the local councils and the major precepting authorities including Essex County Council.
Each authority will develop their own schemes to meet the needs of their local areas which could include changing the criteria for who is eligible for support. However, at its meeting on Tuesday 19 June Essex County Council's Cabinet backed the plans drawn up by a pan-Essex working group to ensure shared principles are used when the local schemes are developed.
- all low income pensioners will be protected
- each authority will seek to reduce the complex nature of the system to make it easier for eligible people to claim
- the benefit will continue to be means tested
- ensuring the new local schemes will be able to cope with the expected future growth in demand despite the reduction in funding.
Essex County Councillor David Finch, the Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, said: "This is an issue that we need to handle sensitively as it is likely to have major impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
"This is why officers from across the county have been working together to develop a co-ordinated approach to this complex subject and I commend the steps they have achieved so far.
"There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but we will be working closely with the borough and district councils and our residents throughout to draw up the most efficient and effective schemes."
Local authorities need to have schemes agreed by 31st January next year. Public consultations on the schemes are scheduled to run from late summer to early autumn this year.