Supporting low-income households: Bristol’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme

Councillor Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor of Bristol, is pictured, smiling, in a dark suit against a white background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor for City Economy, Finance,
and Performance and Labour Councillor for Hillfields ward.

Our Labour administration is proud to support people across our city, no matter where they come from or where they live.

That’s why, since the Mayor’s election in 2016 and then re-election in 2021, Marvin’s administration has delivered over £325 million of support for families across Bristol. We also recently secured £8 million through the Household Support Fund to continue to support residents.

When I was growing up, my own family was support by Council Tax Benefit. This national programme was abolished nationally in 2013, since when Bristol has remained one of the last councils in England to provide a fully funded Council Tax Reduction scheme. The scheme helps people on a low-income with their council tax. This means that currently up to 100% of a household’s council tax bill can be paid for through the scheme, with 75% of eligible low-income households currently having their bills paid in full.

Unfortunately, like most councils across the country, we face an extremely challenging financial position. This is due to a number of reasons, such as the national cost of living crisis and inflation, which means a cost of operating crisis for many organisations; and more than a decade of ongoing national austerity led by this current government. In this challenging climate, the budget agreed by Full Council in February 2023 was set on the basis that the Council Tax Reduction scheme would be reviewed for 2024/25. No other parties moved amendments suggesting alternative savings or income generation in place of this review and, indeed, no opposition parties have meaningfully voted to continue the scheme in its existing form at Budget meetings since 2016.

The Council Tax Reduction Scheme provides 23,000 working age households with up to 100% off their Council Tax bills. In 2022/23, the scheme cost £43.4 million. This represents 8.9% of the council’s total annual revenue budget, which covers day-to-day spending on council services. Of this £43.4 million, working age households collectively receive £30 million of support each year. Support for pension-age households is protected nationally.

The review agreed by Full Council looks at how to make saving of around £3 million through changes to the support available. This is after collection rates and monies collected on behalf of the Avon Fire Authority and Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset are considered.

The council has launched a consultation asking for your views on the options for how low-income households in Bristol will be supported to pay their council tax in 2024/25. Ten options have been proposed in the consultation, which provides you with the opportunity to shape the final proposals for Cabinet, and then Full Council, to consider.

It is only fair that we continue to be realistic with people about the significant financial challenges that local authorities face. Difficult decisions have to be made in the current climate. If savings are not made from the Council Tax Reduction scheme then they will need to be funded from somewhere else, and the consultation provides an option for people to suggest exactly how else to save or raise the money to make this happen.

During a national cost of living crisis, when many Bristolians remain worried about their finances, it is a matter of real concern that some people are seeking to mislead people with incorrect information on this topic.

So, I encourage everyone to review the consultation materials and share their views before 25 September.

Your feedback will provide us insight into making this incredibly important decision and help us consider the future approach to take. The consultation is open until midnight on Sunday, 25 September and can be completed on the Ask Bristol website.