To consider a report containing proposals for tax exemption for Care Leavers.
The Committee considered the Care Leavers Living Support: Council Tax Exemption report which was set out in agenda pages 73-82.
During the discussion of the item the following comments were made:
· Councillor Miall believed that a Council tax reduction was a good idea, however he worried that the Council may be over-protecting young people and not helping them to prepare for real life. He suggested that a progressive pay scale should be used instead of full exemption;
· Councillor Ashwell believed that 25 was a good threshold as the Council’s responsibilities towards Children In Care (CIC) now extended to 25;
· Members felt anxious about the impact of not paying anything at 25 and then having to pay the full amount of Council tax at 26;
· Lisa Humphreys stated that there were a number of other Local Authorities that were offering similar schemes of support to Care Leavers, as per the narrative in the Children’s Society report attached to the Agenda;
· Lisa Humphreys believed that as Corporate Parents the Council had a responsibility to provide for the CIC. She pointed out that Council tax was the only type of debt for which there was no discretion, and if someone could not pay it, it cost the Council more to go through the debt collection agency than to exempt it;
· Lisa Humphreys stated that this proposal related to the most vulnerable people in society, who had no-one else to rely on. She stated that there were strategies in place to help them to prepare for adult life and this help with tax exemption would be a very positive step towards helping young people who may be facing financial difficulties;
· Lisa Humphreys stated that Local Authorities were legally required to demonstrate how they would help young people up to the age of 25, and she believed this was a good initiative;
· In response to a question Lisa Humphreys stated that there were budget management courses and second and third chances around tenancy in order to help Care Leavers;
· Councillor Blumenthal asked what proportion of Care Leavers faced financial difficulties. Lisa Humphreys responded that Care Leavers often had financial difficulties due to the amount of responsibility they had at a young age;
· In response to a question Lisa Humphreys stated that arrangements would be made to pay the Council tax of Care Leavers living in other Local Authorities;
· Councillor Soane suggested looking at each individual Care Leaver and their ability to pay Council tax;
· Lisa Humphreys stated that at the time of writing the report there were 33 Care Leavers, most of which were receiving low wages. She stated that parents strived to be equitable to all children and she felt uncomfortable with the idea of offering different benefits to the children.
Councillor Ashwell stated that he would like to take this proposal to the March Executive and was hoping to have a steer from the Committee.
1) The Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommended the approval of the extension of Council tax exemption to cover Wokingham Borough Council’s Care Leavers to the age of 25 years on a sliding scale to prepare the youngsters to do it on their own, with discretion to full exemption if necessary; and
2) This Committee would discuss this sliding scale at a future meeting.