A new, unified Council Tax Reduction Scheme targeting help at people on low incomes, care leavers, and foster carers has been agreed for Somerset from 1 April 2023 when the new Somerset Council comes into being.
The Scheme was approved by Somerset County Council on November 23. The scheme will be simpler and fairer and means that the lowest income households will pay no Council Tax.
A single person with an income below £95 a week, or a couple with two children on a weekly income below £260, will be entitled to the full 100% council tax reduction. However, some families with an income below £500 a week could also be eligible for some support.
Care leavers up to the age of 25 will continue to be exempt from Council Tax and an entirely new measure, not currently offered by any of the district councils, will give Somerset County Council registered foster carers and qualifying Special Guardians a 50% reduction.
Certain benefits for people with disabilities, war pensioners, families in receipt of child benefit/maintenance and carers will not be considered when income is assessed. The scheme for pension age applicants is set by Government and will continue unchanged.
Councillor Liz Leyshon, Executive Lead Member for Finance and Human Resources said: “This is going to be a very challenging year for council finances, but it is important that we provide help to the people who need it most, no matter where they live in the County. The new Somerset Council is a chance to make Somerset fairer for everyone.
“We also want to support our foster carers who make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable children in Somerset as well as charities based in the county that do so much for so many people.”
The simpler scheme will, if approved by Council, replace four separate systems operated by Somerset’s district councils with varying levels of council tax support. The changes will harmonise support for working-age people on low incomes across the county.
While increasing support for the most vulnerable, the Council also agreed fairer charges for second homes and empty properties aimed at bringing empty homes back into use. There will be no discounts for second homes or empty homes while long-term empty properties will attract premiums, for example 100% for properties empty for two years, rising to 300% after ten years.
The Council Tax Reduction Scheme went out to public consultation in July and by the time it closed in September had attracted almost 1,200 responses – the majority supporting the proposals.
The new scheme will be simpler, easier to understand and less complicated to administer than the existing four district-based schemes.
The Council has also developed a new Business Rate Discretionary Relief scheme which aligns the different approaches currently in operation across the four districts into a single scheme. The new approach targets discretionary support at Somerset based charities and many not-for-profit organisations.