Rebecca Evans is the Welsh Government Minister for Finance and Trefnydd, whose responsibilities include local taxation. Here, she tells us about the changes the Welsh Government have introduced to make council tax fairer and to help people across Wales access crucial council tax discounts. She also talks about the Welsh Government’s collaborative work with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), local authorities and the UK’s biggest consumer website – MoneySavingExpert.com – to implement these changes.
The collection of council tax is vital to maintaining the local services that we all rely upon every day – but we believe that if people find that they are less able to contribute, they should be treated fairly and with dignity. So in April, after a lot of collaborative working, we introduced a series of new measures to help us achieve this.
As part of our pledge to make council tax fairer, the Welsh Government has for some time provided support for 300,000 households in Wales through the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. But with households continuing to struggle with the rising costs of living, we wanted to do more to help the most vulnerable people.
It’s not a crime….
We found that council tax arrears is the most common debt issue for people – and it is an issue that we thought could be better managed by authorities. Putting people in prison for not paying a bill is an outdated and disproportionate response to a civil debt issue, and one that needed to change.
Using the recommendations from the Money Advice Trust’s ‘Stop the Knock’ report, we worked with the WLGA and local authorities to develop our approach to managing council tax debt.
We then launched a public consultation to find out people’s thoughts on removing the penalty of imprisonment. A substantial majority – 84% of respondents – supported our proposal. A lot of legal work followed, before the legislation was introduced on 1 April.
Whilst this is a positive step in the right direction, we know there is still a long way to go. We want to prevent debt problems spiralling out of control by encouraging early engagement and constructive conversations between local authorities and tax payers. The introduction of the Council Tax Protocol for Wales is designed to do just that. Developed with the WLGA and local authorities, the new protocol which we introduced in April promotes closer working relationships between local authorities, the advice sector and enforcement agents.
Providing support when it’s needed most…
We were also concerned about the difficulty that young people leaving the care system were having in paying their council tax bill. Reports from the third sector highlighted that a lack of access to practical and financial support meant that the council tax bill was particularly problematic for care leavers.
Whilst some local authorities had introduced their own discretionary schemes, we found the level of support across Wales was inconsistent. After launching a public consultation to understand the public’s thoughts on exempting all young people leaving care from paying council tax, we received overwhelmingly positive support for the change with 90% of respondents backing the proposals.
After more legal work, this new legislation was introduced on 1 April, ensuring that all young care leavers (up to the age of 25) are exempted from paying council tax as one way of helping them make a successful transition into adulthood.
These legislative changes are just part of a series of measures we have taken to make council tax fairer, protecting some of Wales’ most vulnerable people from the increasing financial pressures they are facing at a time when they need it most.
Helping society’s most vulnerable …
We have also worked with MoneySavingExpert.com to develop an approach that helps people diagnosed with a ‘severe mental impairment’ access the support and discounts they are entitled to, no matter where in Wales they live. The single, simple and easy-to-use form was introduced on 10 April and is now available in all local authorities and advice centres across Wales. This new approach puts Wales at the forefront of steps to make council tax fairer.
These changes are all important steps in delivering our commitment to make council tax fairer. We are currently looking at other ways in which we can continue to improve the council tax system over the short, medium and longer term and we welcome contributions to these discussions at any time.
If you think you may be entitled to a discount or reduction on your council tax, use our eligibility checker.