SOLIHULL Council has been forced to re-launch and extend its consultation into increasing council tax for the borough’s poorest families after a lawyer branded it ‘unlawful’.
The controversial consultation into whether to hike the council tax of low income households by 15 per cent, while others households have seen a rise of just one per cent over five years, was launched a month ago.
But just weeks into the consultation period, which was meant to last until Sunday, October 2, a solicitor acting on behalf of a borough resident, who would face a council tax rise of more than £100 a year, complained to the council.
In a letter leaked to the Observer, the lawyer from the Central England Law Centre raised ‘significant concern about the nature and extent of the information provided in the online consultation document.’
They argued: “The online consultation material does not explain the alternative to reducing the council tax reduction available.
“It suggests that there is, in fact, no alternative.”
The information provided by the council for the consultation identified a number of other ways to alter the scheme to save the council around £1 million a year – including reducing the amount of savings people can have before they qualify for support;
removing a discount people can receive if a second adult in the household is on a low income; and technical changes to how people are assessed as being eligible for support.
However, it went on to state these changes would be ‘complicated for customers to understand and for the council to administer’ – despite the lawyer pointing out a whole section in a report to officers on the proposed changes evaluating all the alternative options.
The lawyer argued the ‘flaws’ in the initial consultation rendered it ‘unlawful’ and urged the council to amend the ‘deficiencies’ in the consultation material, notify all those who had responded to the consultation of the changes, and extend it.
Solihull Council re-launched the consultation on the Council Tax Reduction Scheme earlier this week, arguing it was ‘an enquiry’ rather than the result of a legal challenge.
Green Party councillor for Chelmsley Wood and leader of Solihull Council’s official opposition party, James Burn, has welcomed the legal challenge after vocally opposing the original consultation – branding the plans as ‘unfair and illogical’ changes which ‘raid the back pockets of the most vulnerable’.
He said: “It was obviously incredibly unfair to propose increasing the council tax of the most vulnerable by £15 a month and everyone else’s by 75p a month in the first place.
“But now Solihull Council have been forced by legal action to start the consultation process all over again as it seems even that was legally unfair.
“The whole situation is unbelievable.
“They should scrap this crackers idea now and save everyone the bother.”
There is now an additional information box on the online consultation document and the deadline has been extended until Sunday, October 30.
Residents who currently receive a reduction to their council tax will be contacted directly by the council for their views on the consultation, while those not directly affected will also be able to have a say via an online survey.
Visit www.solihull.gov.uk/consultation to find out more about the consultation and to have your say.
Mew information can be found in the section titled ‘Additional Information’.
A final decision will be made by the Full Council in December and if the scheme is changed, the council will write to everyone currently receiving Council Tax Reduction who may be affected by the change.
Any changes to the scheme will take effect from April 2017.