At this afternoon’s cabinet meeting we reaffirmed our commitment to the £40 million Council Tax Reduction Scheme, the last of its kind in the core cities, which provides a discount of up to 100% for the poorest households in Bristol.
In a continuing era of austerity, where the government continues to increase the gap between rich and poor and look away from the increasing difficulties for our most vulnerable citizens, I was really proud to take the decision to maintain this benefit which maintains the current levels of support to households on a low income.
Keeping the reduction scheme also reduces the risk of increased debt to the council for households on a low income, an increased concern as the switch to Universal Credit really starts to bite for many people.
Our aim remains working towards Bristol being an inclusive and accessible economy for everyone
Council tax reduction and exemption is provided to around 10,000 pensioners and students across Bristol. The reduction scheme provides support to people of working age and around a further 25,000 households.
As we would expect, single parents, disabled people, members of black and minority ethnic communities, and women rely dis-proportionately on benefit from the scheme. Again we know that more people are affected in less affluent areas with more than 9,300 working-age households in receipt of the CTRS, from just five of Bristol’s 34 wards. These are Hartcliffe & Withywood, Lawrence Hill, Avonmouth & Lawrence Weston, Filwood, and Ashley. 3 of these wards are amongst the most deprived wards in the city.
Today’s meeting also saw plans to increase the rate of council tax on long-term empty properties to 300%, having already scrapped the 50% discount in place under the previous administration.
Cabinet approved proposals to increase council tax on long-term empty properties – defined as being unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for at least two years – to up to 300% of their Council tax. The premium will not apply in certain circumstances, for instance where an owner has gone into hospital or care home, has moved to another residence to receive or provide care, has passed away.
We estimate this will raise an additional £189,000 over the next financial year. Even more importantly it will help encourage people to bring more of the 291 domestic properties which have been empty and unfurnished for at least two years back into use as homes. Given the housing crisis and the consequences it has, we need to use every available tool at our disposal to make sure empty houses become homes.
These two policies demonstrate our progressive approach to taxation in a way that no other core city has achieved.