As the 30th January deadline for amending Council Tax Support (CTS) Schemes for 2017/18 draws near a number of London councils are still going through the process of deciding whether to change their schemes for the new financial year. As we have previously outlined the changes being proposed in London range from the restoration of 100% support in Camden to Redbridge increasing it’s minimum payment up to 20%. But the best news is that two boroughs which previously announced proposals to cut support have significantly reduced their planned cuts.

In Tower Hamlets the Mayor initially consulted residents on abolishing the boroughs 100% support scheme and introducing a 20% minimum payment. However, following a petition against the changes from over 500 residents and representations from a number of charities, including Z2K, the Child Poverty Action Group and Toynbee Hall, he has announced he is ‘minded to retain the 100% support for working age households’. While this is undoubtedly a huge win for Tower Hamlets’ poorest residents there are still a number of proposed cuts on the table that could amount to significant losses of support for some claimants.

These proposals centre around how the income of non-dependents is taken into account when calculating the level of support CTS claimants are entitled too. The current system used is the same as Housing Benefit, where a deduction to support is made based on the income of any non-dependents in the household. For example if non-dependents have a gross income of less than £195 a week then £3.77 is deducted from the claimant’s award.

Under the proposed ‘Option 4’ all non-dependants’ income will instead be taken into account when calculating household income, which would lead to £1.3m cut in support for 2,634 claimants. An alternative ‘Option 5’ is also proposed where households with non-dependent’s whose income is above £370.50 will not receive any support. However it is not clear from the council papers exactly how these options will work in practice, for example will means tested and disability benefits be excluded from calculations of non-dependents’ income, as is currently the case? We hope that Tower Hamlets councillors will scrutinise these proposals carefully before agreeing any changes.

Meanwhile in Waltham Forest the council had initially consulted on increasing their minimum payment from 24% to 40%, which would have made it by far the highest in London. But thanks to some tenacious local campaigners this increase has now been quietly dropped in favour of “two small technical changes”. Unfortunately these technical changes amounted to increasing the schemes taper rate from 25 to 30 per cent and instituting a minimum award, both of which mean cuts to support for claimants in part time or low paid work.

While Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest have backtracked on the scale of cuts initially proposed Richmond and Enfield launched last minute consultations on increasing their minimum payments. Richmond is proposing a 10% increase from 5% to 15% for ‘non-vulnerable’ claimants while Enfield is looking at a more modest 1.5% hike up to 26.5%. In the case of Richmond a 5% minimum payment was introduced for the first time in 2016/17 yet no assessment of its impact has been provided. If the experience of the 5% minimum payment has been that large number of claimants have been unable to pay and the cost of collection has significantly increased then it would be advisable not to further increase the minimum payment. However Richmond’s consultation provides no information as to whether this is the case. In contrast Enfield’s consultation does at least admit that over 9,000 claimants are in arrears with their payments, but no solutions are forthcoming as what should be done about it.

In Redbridge the Cabinet has recommended that the minimum payment be increased to 20% in 2017/18 followed by a further increase to 25% in 2018/19. A final decision will be made by full council on 19th January.

While these five boroughs are all proposing cuts in some form or another, Camden stands out as the only authority increasing the support available under its scheme. Following a public consultation Camden’s Cabinet has recommended that 100% support be reintroduced from 2017/18. Although different London authorities undoubtedly face different levels of financial difficulty the example of Camden, as well as those authorities who continue to fund 100% support, does demonstrate that there is an alternative to hiking council tax charges for low income residents. We hope other authorities take note and start to follow suit.