York Council Tax arrears hit £5.9 million

Council TaxAt the end of March 2015, the York Council was owed £5,968,577 in Council Tax arrears.

This was up from the £5,314,296 recorded at the end of 2010/11.

A total of 14,383 residents were in arrears.

292 residents owed more than £3000, while 6 residents owed more than £10,000.

In 2011 the latter figure had been zero.

7535 liability orders were issued last year and bailiffs dealt with 3637 cases.

The Council wrote off over £370,000 in Council Tax debts last year.

More detailed figures can be read by clicking here

Council Tax single occupant fraud checks starting in York

CT fraud

The authority is carrying out a review of its single occupancy customer database to ensure that it is up-to-date. The council will also carry out a residency check to find out who may no longer be eligible for discount.

Ian Floyd, the council’s director of Resources, said: “We know that most people claim council tax discounts legitimately, but there are occasions when people’s circumstances change and they forget to tell us that their discount should be cancelled.

“The authority has a legal and social responsibility to ensure that everyone in York gets value for money and to ensure that only those people who are eligible receive the discount.”

More information on the single persons discount review can be found on the council’s website at: www.york.gov.uk/SPDreview. People can also cancel their discount online.

Householders who receive a single person’s discount review form can also contact the review team by ringing 01904 820900.

 

York Council’s poor financial performance under Labour

A freedom of Information response has confirmed what many residents suspected. They are paying higher taxes than they would in many other City’s, and less is being invested in public services than 5 years ago.

Despite claims to the contrary, government grants to the city – relative to other unitary authorities – have been stable for 5 years..,

The main change is in Council Tax levels. When Labour took office in 2011 York had the second lowest Council Tax level in the country.

The Council now only ranks 14th lowest.

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Council Tax bills on their way

Following approval by City of York Council’s Full Council to set its Budget for 2015/16, the authority is now issuing council tax information to over 86,000 households in the city with details of their new payments for the year from April.

Council tax payers can also sign up to receive their council tax bills by email. The fast, free, environmentally-friendly and secure service is available online at www.york.gov.uk in the Do it Online area. The service gives them instant and 24/7 access to their bill and they will be sent an email notification when their new bill is ready.

The Council has for the first time in 4 years accepted a government subsidy which means that Council Tax bills have been frozen

To sign up for e-billing, all residents have to do is have their last council tax bill to hand and go to the council’s website:

  • Scroll to Do it Online
  • Select Apply for it
  • Scroll to Council Tax
  • Select Council Tax e-billing – then follow the instructions from there.

As soon as their bill is available they will be sent an email notification and will be able to view their account securely online at any time and download and print the bill if needed. Each person named on the bill can arrange to receive their own e-copy.

City of York Council has a net revenue budget of £119.6million, funded by Council tax income of £72.8million, government grant of £21.0million, Retained Business Rates of £24.1million. A one off income of £1.8million has also been identified from a surplus Collection fund of Council Tax and council reserves.

The budget – voted through by Labour with Green party support – includes highly controversial proposals such as the introduction a £35 pa charge for emptying (all) green bins, a reduction in grey bin emptying frequency to once every 3 or 4 weeks and an end to support for local Community Centres.

The price that Green Councillors  secured in return for their votes was a 10p per hour increase in car parking charges.

The budget is likely to be reviewed in June following the Council collections when Labour are expected to lose many of their existing Councillors.

York has the 14th lowest band D council tax, the 3rd lowest spend per head of population of any unitary council in England and the 8th lowest government funding per head in the country.

York Council Tax grant settlement announced

Council Tax levels set to be frozen

The York Council has fared relatively well in the grant settlement announced today.

The Councils “spending power” will fall by only 0.1% against a national average of 1.8%.

The “spending power” figure combines regular central government funding with one-off grants and things like Council Tax, a proportion of business rates and other fees and charges.

The government has also confirmed that it will underwrite the costs of freezing Council Tax levels. The new Labour leadership have promised to accept the offer of support unlike their predecessors who hiked up Council Tax rates unnecessarily.

Council Tax freeze in York?

It seems that for the first time since the LibDems were in control of the York Council in 2011, a tax freeze may be applied for the forthcoming year.

Council Tax Dec 2014

The new Leader of the Labour Group on the Council is set to do a 180 degree police about turn. He says that he will freeze Council Tax levels at the present rate irrespective of whether the government provides a subsidy.

The previous regime had planned another 1.8% Council Tax increase bringing in around £1.3 million to the Council’s coffers. A higher increase than this might have required a referendum to find out residents views.

Where the £1.3 million will comes from is anyone’s guess although for the last 4 years the York Council has been offered a government subsidy to freeze tax levels.

The offer for the current year was worth £778,000 and was subsequently rejected by Cllr Alexander. So there is still money to find if the pledge is to be honoured.

Last February the Council agreed a 2 year financial strategy.

Since then pressures on Council spending have continued to increase. As well as inflation, currently running at 1.3%, the number of elderly requiring care continues to rise and the Councils botched performance on waste management means that landfill tax bills are also increasing.

Add in a potential liability of over £1 million for Lendal Bridge (and maybe Coppergate) refunds and the budget looks tight to say the least.

Several of the economies forecast last February have failed to mature most noticeably in the field of social care. There an auditors report found that £3.9 million in savings had not been delivered.

There will be some good news to ease budget decisions for the Council. Fuel prices are falling, it will receive another “new homes bonus” payment from the government and business rates income will increase as the economy continues to improve.

Pretty much every taxpayer will expect that a freeze on new expenditure would be introduced at the same time as any freeze on Council income levels. The Council will need to redirect its resources to improving basic services. It will need to shelve some of its major capital projects, reduce the amount that it is borrowing and thereby cut interest and repayment costs.

“Media centres”, “access bridges” to the York central site and the like, should in future be financed by the private sector..

Over the last 4 years Council Tax increases in York have been:

  • 2011/12 Freeze (last LibDem Council budget. Government subsidy accepted)
  • 2012/13 +2.9 (First Labour budget – Council Tax freeze subsidy rejected by James Alexander)
  • 2013/14 +1.9% (CT freeze subsidy rejected)
  • 2014/15 +1.9% (Ct freeze subsidy rejected)

In all, the average York resident is paying £67 a year more in Council Tax than would have been the case if government subsidies had been accepted during the last 3 years.

The vast majority of Councils did accept the subsidy offers.

York Council Tax exemption costs published

Student accommodation costs taxpayers £18 million over 5 years.

The York Council has published a table showing the amount of Council Tax not collected over the last 5 years because of approved “exemptions”.

The amount not collected totals £34 million.

By far the largest proportion of this is accounted for by student occupied accommodation. This accounts for around £18 million of the total. Central government claims that this is recognised in the grant distribution formulae which is aimed at equalising resources between different Councils (and is effectively funded from income tax). However the precise make up of individual central government council support grants is largely opaque.

The figure is likely to re-energise the claims of those who feel that student accommodation should attract either Council Tax or Business Rates payments.

Other reasons why properties did not attract Council Tax liability included:

  • Empty and unfurnished property (£4.5 million)
  • Awaiting probate (£1.9 million)
  • Student halls of residence (£1.7 million)
  • Occupation by members of the armed forces (£2.9 million)
  • Property occupied by people with a mental handicap (£2.3 million)
Council Tax exemptions click to access

Council Tax exemptions click to access

Big York Council Departmental overspends in 2013/14

Council took £1.8 million in spy camera fines which may have to be refunded

Social care budgets were over spent by £1.3 million last year with Environmental Services (mainly waste collection) clocking up a £443,000 and Children’s Services/Education a £309,000 loss.

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Overall York Council Departments spent £1.7 million more than had been budgeted.

The budget broke even only because of a £2 million surplus on “centrally administered” budgets.

The figures are revealed in a report to be considered by the Councils “Cabinet” tomorrow (Tuesday)

As previously reported, the biggest problems arise in Social Care where the Council reveals overspends on community support (£236k) due to a higher number of customers than forecast, a continued increase above forecast level in the number of customers taking up Direct Payments (£129k), increased use of external placements for emergency and short term breaks (£252k) and a higher than budgeted number of customers in residential nursing placements (£718k).

The Councils financial position was saved only because it continued to enjoy the benefits of low interest rates on its borrowing (equivalent to a £990,000 budget saving).

It achieved only 73% of its planned capital investment programme storing up a massive £83 million backlog in work which it says it will try to address during the current financial year.

The government gave the City an extra £732,000 to reduce the Rate burden on small businesses although there has been a slow take up on this important concession.

The position is also masked by £1.765 million in fines income received from spy camera use in the Lendal Bridge and Coppergate.

The Council has now admitted that the trials cost a whopping £718,000 to implement. £1.047 million has been put in a reserve account which will presumably be used to refund fines imposed unlawfully.

The balance would have to come from Council taxpayers (the equivalent of a 1% rise in Council Tax levels).

The spy cameras on Lendal Bridge have been removed while those on Coppergate were switched off on 1st April.

The housing revenue account (Council house rents income) showed a £12.1 million surplus at the end of the year.

The report to the Cabinet pointedly fails to contain performance data on the quality of public services being provided to York residents.

NB As at April 1st 2014, 6717 York Council Taxpayers had arrears of £ 4,769,989.36

Local Assistance Scheme for poor underspent in York

Local Assistance Scheme only half forecast

It looks like the York Council will underspend its budget for welfare payments during the current financial year.

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The budget was delegated to the Council by the government replacing – in part – the Social Welfare fund.

It is intended to make emergency payments to less well off people who encounter unexpected expenses.

The York scheme is called the York Financial Assistance Scheme (YFAS). Its explanatory booklet says that the YFAS can be used to help with, for example:

• Expenses and household items to help you move out of residential care or stay in your home

• Rent or council tax payments

• Financial assistance in an emergency.

By the end of January nearly half of the Council’s £315,000 YFAS budget had not been committed.

A total of 1062 payments had been authorised with the authority saying that 176 of them were made to people aged under 25.

Given that the budget is not being fully spent this year, it is surprising that the Council announced last week that it will to add another £100,000 to the payments that it intends to make next year

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Meanwhile many fears about Council Tax income are proving to be unfounded.

The York Council had collected 85% of monies due by the end of December. The same percentage as in 2012.

However the number in arrears with their Council Tax payments had increased from 5556 in 2012 to 7040 in 2013.

Of these 2601 were receiving Council Tax support (formerly known as “benefit”)

Perhaps surprisingly the numbers who had been referred to bailiffs had fallen from 3996 to 2902

The Council is budgeting next year to collect an additional £1/4 million through “further improvement of collection performance”.

Council leadership policy mistake costing average York resident £50 a year

The government has announced that how individual Councillors vote on crucial budget decisions – like Council Tax levels – will, in future, be published.

In York, such decisions are often the subject of a “recorded vote” anyway although it can be weeks before vigilant taxpayers can find the records in meeting minutes.

Meanwhile the government has again offered to underwrite the income required to freeze Council Tax levels. £779,000 has been offered to the City. The funding would continue in future years.

The Council has made poor decisions over the last 3 years when turning down this funding.

Council tax

The inexperienced Labour leadership – wrongly – assumed that the subsidy would be available for 1 year only. In reality the government has built the payment into the basic grant that the City receives.

This means that York Council taxpayers are – on average – now paying over £50 a year more for local services than they would have been if the Council had accepted the central government offer.

Next year a band D council taxpayer will have to find  £1,165.54 to pay for York Council services, to which will be added the costs of Fire (4% increase planned) and Police (2% increased proposed)

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The York Council is planning to give £1 million to the Leeds Council “infrastructure fund”.

In addition, around £300,000 in additional (new) Business Rates is being “pooled” with West Yorkshire Councils.

These are optional payments with no guarantee that any of the money will be invested in York.