Making welfare work locally: Rushmoor Borough Council
Reviewing recovery processes for stable, sustainable collections
In implementing this important change, the Council was determined to bring in a new scheme that was fair, affordable and workable for all our residents. We introduced a minimum contribution for everyone, but made sure that alongside this we took an approach to collections that were supportive at all stages of the process and minimised the escalation of debts. I believe we have taken our responsibility seriously and our results during the past year, in achieving stable collection rates, have shown that we are achieving our objectives.
Councillor Adam Jackman, Portfolio Holder for Concessions and Community Support
Summary of scheme
- Rushmoor Borough Council experienced a funding reduction of £0.5m when council tax benefit was abolished. As a result of this and other local changes, they needed to collect an additional £1.5m
- Its council tax reduction scheme involves an 8 per cent minimum contribution for all, regardless of council tax band
- Around 2,300 households are affected, 1,800 of whom have never paid council tax before
- No one pays more than £3.70 per week if they receive the maximum level of support and most pay less than £2
- Child benefit and child maintenance is treated as income except for those in receipt of means-tested, working age benefits
- Work and savings incentives protected by maintaining but all other elements such as levels and types of disregards, savings allowed and tapers are in line with the old CTB scheme and housing benefit rules
- Changes to council tax exemptions and discounts for empty homes have been used to raise additional revenue
Why Rushmoor’s work stood out
Rushmoor Borough Council changed its approach to collections and recovery for people who were affected by the change from CTB providing encouragement and support to help people pay. They did not take any court action against anyone in this group for six months, and where court action was eventually necessary, they reduced court costs, held separate hearings and did not instruct bailiffs to recover debts. They have succeeded in collecting 80 per cent of the newly created liability for the people who were previously on full CTB and overall their collection rate has remained stable, at 98.3 per cent.
- Detailed modelling and customer-focused design
Rushmoor Borough Council set up a Welfare Reform Task and Finish Group to devise and monitor their council tax support (CTS) scheme. The council undertook detailed modelling work and looked at around 10 different options for support. Their aims were to incentivise work and protect vulnerable people, while making savings within the scheme, and they used systems thinking to help them focus on the needs of their customers.
- Spreading the costs and not protecting one group at the expense of another
Local consultation revealed a majority view amongst organisations working with low income households that certain groups should not be prioritised at the expense of others, although the council is monitoring impact on different groups to inform future decisions. The decision to raise revenue from reducing exemptions for empty homes was an effective way at protecting lower income households and had the potential to encouraging owners to fill empty housing.
- Innovation in collections and recovery processes
The council changed its collections and recovery processes for those affected by the change from CTB to CTS. Staff called all those who did not pay on time rather than simply sending reminders, and explored options to make it easier to pay. Court action is a last resort, with costs reduced from £80 to £20, and bailiffs were not used to collect arrears from the CTS group. Revenues Officers are able to make recommendations to managers to make payments from the exceptional hardship fund and will refer to debt advice where necessary. This has enabled them to maintain a stable council tax collection rate that compares favourably with other authorities in the area and in their audit group.