A statement made by the Deputy Leader of the Council
Tuesday 23 October 2012
A statement made by the Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr George Duggins, regarding the collection of Council Tax at Full Council, 23 October 2012.
May I begin by thanking Council Tax staff for the work they do, ordinarily in the background but crucial to the running of the Council.
The Council send out somewhere in the region of 135,000 Council Tax bills at the start of the year and throughout the year a further 135,000 are sent to reflect changes in the amount due to be paid and changes of occupiers. In addition to these reminders, finals, summonses and arrangement letters are also issued.
These pieces of correspondence deal with actual bills, alterations that relate to a change of circumstances.
At present the Council sets an in-year collection rate for Council Tax of 96%. That equates to around £106 million.
On top of this the Council collects £115 million in business rates after adjustments, reliefs and exemptions.
Simply put if we collect 95% Council Tax then as a Council we are short of income to the tune of £1.06 million. However, if we were to collect 100% we would be better off to the tune of £4.24 million I am aware that this is unlikely but this is a fact.
So the stakes are high and that is why the Council needs to employ a variety of approaches to Council Tax collection.
Remember there is no ducking the fact that one person non-payment of Council Tax is another person's loss of service or job loss. Simple and straight forward as that.
This Council despite our unprecedented financial position has during the last two budgets ensured that the cuts we have endured have not been passed on to advisory services in Coventry. Why? Simply because we recognise the difficulties associated with the economic backdrop, austerity, and the harshness of government welfare reform.
It is why, in our Job Shop, vulnerable people have a pride of place.
This Council has also not raised Council Tax in our budgets in 2011 and 2012. Again this decision recognised the difficulty families are facing in Coventry. But this has been to the detriment of our base budget.
Not for us the luxury of annual increases associated with say Travel Coventry who have raised fares by 6% at the end of both 2010 and 2011. Let alone the utter obscene price hikes associated with the energy companies.
And it is why we are consulting on a Council Tax Benefit scheme which will provide the same level of rebate whether full or partial shielding as far as we can people already hit often several times by government welfare reform.
37,000 reasons why we are proactively looking after people who are vulnerable in Coventry many on low wages.
Not talk on protecting vulnerable people real action.
Further, non-collection of Council Tax is an utter abdication of responsibility to the vulnerable of Coventry.
So let me clear up a few things.
This Council and our staff are 100% committed to social inclusion and supporting vulnerable people. Indeed in finance far more staff are administering benefits than collecting Council Tax.
The Council has strong links with the voluntary sector in supporting the vulnerable and is an active member of the city's Financial Inclusion Forum.
Our guidelines on vulnerable people have not been ditched in relation to bailiffs.
The key here the word 'guidelines'.
This clears up once and for all any confusion that might have existed on this matter. I accept semantics are important accept there is a huge difference between policies and guidelines.
The contract to change bailiff firm was carried out by the Procurement Board as it represented no change to policy and nil cost, yes nil cost, to the Council.
If possible we would avoid using bailiffs. Overall we believe our approach is caring and professional and provides the right balance between the need to collect tax owed, and the need to be sympathetic to people's individual circumstances.
I would be staggered if casework at all stages of the Council Tax process did not occur, whether these cases are taken up with officers of the Council, Councillors, Members of Parliament, advice services or even the local media.
Equally, where there is evidence of poor practice we will hold bailiffs to account. No turning of blind eyes.
So far the current bailiff contract has brought in £1.6 million which officers calculation equates to 61 jobs at £25k.
While not wishing to go into too much detail on casework let me be a bit rhetorical. The Telegraph reported in one of the cases that the Council Tax bill was overlooked for 5 years. I will make no comment on this. All I will say if the refuse from the home had not been removed for five weeks let alone five years I think contact would have been made with the Council.
To avoid an overlooking of Council Tax the employment of Direct Debit is recommended by the Council where possible. 62.8% pay by this method where there is a charge.
At the same time communication with the Council is crucial. If members of the public are struggling with Council Tax bills then get in touch with Council officers as soon as possible.
Finally, let me say that the Council owe it to all citizens who pay Council Tax to ensure those who often can but choose not to pay do so. We only use bailiffs when considered appropriate and is usually where there has been no contact or a payment has been defaulted upon. Sometimes it is the only option left to us.