Penalties may be introduced in Babergh and Mid Suffolk to tackle council tax fraud, alongside new protocol to help those in genuine need, following cabinet discussions next month.
Cabinets of both Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils are due to meet early in the New Year, with a council tax penalties proposal and the adoption of the Citizens Advice Council Tax Protocol on the agenda.
Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils have a statutory duty to collect council tax across their districts, which is then divided between Suffolk County Council, the Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, the districts themselves, and the local parish or town councils. The money then goes towards the cost of the services they provide.
If agreed, the new penalties policy would give the councils the option to issue an initial penalty of £70 to anyone refusing to meet requests to supply legally required information, or failing to let the council know about changes in their circumstances which would affect their entitlement to a discount, exemption or Council Tax reduction.
The move, if approved, will be in place by April 2020, and could bring in as much as £18,000 a year in fines to the councils’ coffers – although the move is intended as a deterrent against fraud and error, rather than a source of income.
Alongside the penalties, councillors are also due to consider adoption of a new protocol produced by Citizens Advice and Local Government Association for the collection of council tax arrears.
Citizens Advice report that growing numbers of people are turning to them for help, with council tax debt nationally on the rise over the last three years.
The Shared Revenues Partnership (SRP), which collects council tax on behalf of Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils as well as Ipswich Borough Council, has already been working with Citizens Advice to ensure the processes it has in place to deal with arrears are fair and ethical.
Now councillors are being asked to formally adopt the Citizens Advice council tax protocol, developed through partnership work between national bodies representing advice agencies, local government and enforcement agencies throughout England and Wales.
Cllr John Whitehead, Cabinet Member for Finance for Mid Suffolk District Council said:
“We have a duty to protect public money. By introducing penalties, we can clamp down on abuse and ensure we can fund necessary council services for our residents, while assisting those in genuine need of help.”
Cabinet Member for Finance and Leader of Babergh District Council, Cllr John Ward said:
“We are committed to taking a proactive approach in preventing and reducing council tax fraud, as well as working closely with our enforcement agents and Citizens Advice so we can improve collection processes.
“Through early intervention to help residents struggling with council tax payments we can help prevent further charges, alleviate stress and reduce collection costs.”
Residents can easily check their details and let the councils know of any changes 24/7 by signing up for an online account via the councils’ website.
Through an online account, residents can opt for paperless billing, check their balance, see instalments, update their details and see council tax reduction and housing benefit claim information as well as viewing bills online. You can find out more here.