A West Midlands-based housing association says it’s worth exploring the idea of social landlords collecting council tax on behalf of local authorities as a result of the Government’s welfare reform.
From next April, councils will administer their own council tax benefit schemes – but will see a 10% reduction in the amount they have to support residents and a condition to protect pensioners.
This has seen local authorities consult on schemes requiring all working age residents who qualify for council tax support to pay a minimum contribution to their council tax.
Currently, the benefit can be claimed on the whole council tax bill, which means some people do not have to pay anything.
Councils have raised concern over the aggressive timescales for implementation, the challenge of prioritising support and fear low collection rates.
Last month, Pete Challis, Unison’s national officer for local government and housing, told the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, that it was aware of one authority who was assuming it would only collect 35p for every £1 that it’s now going to charge to people who previously weren’t paying.
He said: “It’s because you’re seeking to get money from people that don’t have it when times are very hard.”
Helen Shields is business manager at Bromford Support’s Moneymates service – which provides appointee and money management solutions for vulnerable people.
She said there is scope for registered providers to offer and charge local authorities for a service collecting council tax and for the two to work a lot closer on rent and housing support.
She said: “Councils are going to deal with council tax at a local level. Is there a role for registered providers? Why can’t providers collect council tax on behalf of councils for our residents, as we’re collecting from the same people? Why have two teams?”
She said the idea would especially apply to LSVTs whose stock is condensed into one local authority area.
Bromford’s Moneymates service sees the landlord act as an appointee for tenants with learning difficulties and their benefits.
It receives their benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions which are then automatically transferred into ‘virtual accounts’ for residents. It then manages bill payments on behalf of residents.
It also allocates discretionary spend on prepaid cards.
She said there was scope to develop and expand the service to tenants who need the service once housing benefit is paid direct to tenants under Universal Credit.
“We are already doing those services,” she says. “There are individuals out there who need that level of intensive support. The system would have to change. It’s looking at how we can work with banks, and the DWP and how we can provide support and advice as well. We’ve got expertise in house to manage residents’ finances.”