Saturday, 26 August 2017

President’s log - September 2017

It is probably the quietest time of our year with annual billing over, the early recovery runs undertaken, the rush of new benefit claims following annual billing processed and, for this year, the initial interest in the revaluation also subsided. Many offices are quieter than normal, as many of us take our well-earned holidays.

Well, that’s the way it should be, but of course in the revenues and benefits world there is always something on the horizon. Many authorities, and any organisation involved in the provision of housing, are preparing for the rollout of the full service for Universal Credit.  Many are also of course fearful of the consequences of this on rental income and other payments such as council tax, utility bills and everyday living costs. 

The potential for families to go into debt, especially those who have always paid their way, is worrying, and of course it could well be the landlord or local council that they will turn to, to help them through a difficult period in their lives.

As I say, it should be the time of year when we take a breather, have a break and prepare for the next round of change or implementation of government policy.  However, this is not the case for those of you who work within the business rates arena in particular, as you grapple with the latest government idea of the discretionary rate reliefs for pubs, supporting small businesses and the local discretionary fund. This of course was announced in the Budget and included a pot of money amounting to £300m to help small businesses.

However, as it includes a local scheme, there is a lot to do in designing a scheme and consulting on it, which wasn’t helped when the government promptly decided to hold a General Election!  Many local authorities are only now going out to consultation on their local scheme. It is therefore very annoying, and worrying, when local authorities receive letters from Marcus Jones effectively berating local authorities for not having a scheme in place. Either relations between his department and local government are at a very low point or he doesn’t fully understand the requirements and the potential for challenge of a local scheme. 

The weather has been pretty miserable over the past couple of weeks, but we were fortunate to have fine weather for the national IRRV golf competition, organised by Bob Trahern at Nuneaton Golf Club. We had more players and sponsors than we have had for quite some time and many players were able to take the time to catch up with friends and colleagues from around the country.  Whilst it was an excellent day all round, it didn't all go to plan for every player, as the photo (right) testifies.  In light of this success, I am looking to hold a golf competition at Oswestry Golf Club on the Monday before our Annual Conference in early October - look out for details.



Wednesday, 2 August 2017

President’s log - August 2017

Hello readers,

There have been many headlines over the past few weeks, including the dreadful events in Manchester and London and the political upheaval of the government losing its majority. The impact of all these and other events, of course, has an impact on local government and the services we provide.   

Many of the services and personnel delivering them have quite rightly received the praise they deserve, as people put their own lives in danger to help others. In addition to the immediate response, there is often a great deal of help required for many months - even years - following these events and local government is at the forefront of delivering these services. These often include our own revenues, benefits and advice services, as we ensure our residents receive the financial assistance to which they are entitled, with discounts/exemptions identified and delivered, and appropriate payment plans negotiated. 

Unfortunately, whilst these events get the attention to which they are entitled, once again politicians think that local government can be an easy hit, for example as Vince Cable comes out and criticises the collection rates for council tax and business rates, concentrating on the uncollected monies rather than the collection rates for these taxes. 

During 2016/17, local authorities in England collected £26b compared to £22b in 2012/13. Whilst the collection rate understandably went down in 2013/14, owing to the introduction of the local council tax support schemes, the collection rate now is not far off the rates achieved in 2012/13.  In Wales, the story is the same, with local authorities achieving the highest ever collection rate, at 97.4%.  And in Scotland, In-year collection rates have improved steadily from 87.2% in 1998/99 to 93.8% in 2006/07 and now 95.8% in 2016/17.

These collection rates are set against the continuation of austerity and reducing staff num-bers, as budgets are cut and in England the poorest in our society have to make a contri-bution towards their council tax bill.

Wouldn’t it be easier if the politicians came out and congratulated revenues and benefits staff for the incredible job they do in delivering the most efficient tax system in the world, at the same time ensuring our residents receive the benefits to which they are entitled?  I’m not sure how we can reverse this particular thought process!


Since my last article, I have been extremely busy undertaking presidential duties and have been to many parts of Great Britain, including visits to Scotland (the Revenues Symposium) and to the Wales Conference in LLandrindod Wells. I thank everyone for the warm welcome I receive everywhere I go. 

I have a small number of events to attend over the next couple of weeks before there is a lull in activity during August as the holiday period reaches its climax… which point I hope you all have the holiday and rest you undoubtedly deserve!