If you live in the districts of Northampton, Daventry, or South Northamptonshire (soon to be covered under the West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) from May 2021) sweeping changes are being proposed that will adversely impact a large number of households. The Local Council Tax Support\Reduction Scheme (LCTSS/LCTRS) has operated since 2013 to help safeguard those on no or low-income replacing Council Tax Benefit. While Council Tax Benefit covered 100% of council tax the new LCTRS is set at a local level with support varying from council to council based on how they manage (or fail to manage) their budgets.
The WNC LCTRS Consultation 2021-22 is open, with a proposal generated from the shadow WNC (an unelected group made up of members of the current district and county councils). This consultation looks at the reduction of LCTRS support across the new WNC, which means for South Northants (and Daventry) a decrease in the level of support residents can receive. It is proposed that minimum proportion residents requiring support must pay will increase from 8.5% to 26.5%. For example, someone living in Brackley currently using the LCTRS in a Band B property would have to pay an additional £272.34 per year under these proposals. For Daventry the current minimum is 20% and in Northampton it is 31%; Northampton’s rates reflecting the financial mismanagement and a failed attempt to balance the books by increasing rates for the least able to pay.
The unelected shadow unitary councils are putting forward proposals that clearly signal an attempt to strongarm their austerity strategy into council policy with catastrophic ripples that will last long after they’re replaced with elected officials. If you dig into the documents behind this proposal and their rationale, it soon becomes clear that they have been led by ideals that do not seek to put residents first but only look at what can be delivered at cost neutral; ignoring the impact it will have to residents of South Northants on LCTRS. It was also noted by an IFS report from 2019 looking at the impacts of localised council tax support schemes, that reductions in council tax support does not tend to deliver funds as expected, with reductions correlating with increases in council tax arrears.
There has been an Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) undertaken however this is wholly inadequate and is fundamentally flawed. Its purpose is to “understand the implications of policies and decisions on people with protected characteristics”, however there are deficiencies in every section of the report; all the EqIA evidences in the complete disregard the shadow council has for its residents, with its completion being a paper exercise with no value.
We would like to focus on a few elements of the report to highlight the fundamental flaws of the EqIA and hopefully make residents aware of how little the current Conservative council cares about the residents it is there to serve.
If we take a look at section 6, it asks: “Based on the above information, what is the likely impact on the following groups? Please explain why you have made this assessment. If you are unsure, set out what you will do to get enough information to make an assessment”. When we factor in gender then we would expect a robust and lengthy discussion on the socio-economic disadvantage this change could have. Instead we see an “N/A” response.
The assessment states without giving any evidence of the demographic of the residents using LCTRS that there is no impact as sex is not an eligibility criterion. For example, the 2019 IFS, stated that lone parents are disproportionately affected by cuts in council tax support scheme, as lone parents are 86% likely to be single mothers it is clear that this will have a negative impact to women.
Next let’s look at Socio-economic exclusion:
It states a positive and negative impact though this has not been qualified at all so there is no indication of the scale of the impact with the explanation section being left blank. Under mitigations/actions they detail “working with customers to offer debt and money advice to maximise income”, which clearly is no mitigation to the negative impact of the policy. To use a well-used Conservative phrase if you are “just about managing” then it does not matter how much advice you are given this will not increase the money in your pocket. This impact will be felt by South Northants residents using LCTRS the most, and they are most likely to be pushed into arrears.
This mitigation is once again used for Health and wellbeing considerations:
When there’s a clear pattern of ‘copy and paste’ answers it shows that no real thought has been put into this document, with the likely hope that no one would read it and they can push on with this policy regardless of the negative impact it will have on the residents of South Northants.
These are just some highlights of the EqUA however the quality of the submission does not improve showing the authors are either incompetent or just don’t care about how such policies will impact residents, and we don’t know which one is worse.