Bristol council tax reduction cuts delayed after legal challenge

Bristol City Council seems to have accepted it made mistakes and is relaunching the public consultation into the proposed cutsBristol City Council seems to have accepted it made mistakes and is relaunching the public consultation into the proposed cuts
Bristol City Council seems to have accepted it made mistakes and is relaunching the public consultation into the proposed cuts
The community union ACORN claims plans to spend less on the council tax reduction scheme were “unlawful”

Council chiefs have been forced to delay a decision on whether to cut £3million in benefits to Bristol’s poorest families after a legal challenge from ACORN.

The community union claimed plans to spend less on the council tax reduction scheme (CTRS) were “unlawful”.

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Now Bristol City Council seems to have accepted it made mistakes and is relaunching the public consultation into the proposed cuts from today (Monday, October 30).

ACORN campaigners have spent months disrupting authority meetings and demanding to meet Labour mayor Marvin Rees over the issue.

The legal challenge first emerged when it was mentioned briefly by Mr Rees and deputy mayor for finance Cllr Craig Cheney at a cabinet meeting earlier this month.

Now details have emerged of the letter sent to the council by ACORN’s solicitors Irwin Mitchell on September 21 querying the lawfulness of the plans on equalities grounds and the way residents’ comments were sought.

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It said the consultation was missing vital information that consultees would have needed to respond.

The lawyers said there were no details of the current scheme, who was eligible, how a proposed discretionary fund would work or how “financial hardship” would be measured for the poorest to continue to qualify for the scheme, which gives discounts for those struggling to pay council tax.

They claimed some of the information was also “misleading”, including one of the proposed options which they said gave the impression that universal credit recipients could be protected without explaining that only disabled people on UC would be eligible for this.

The letter also said the proposed cuts appeared to breach the Equality Act – making them “unlawful” – because of contradictory statements in the consultation that said the cuts would disproportionately affect young people, disabled people, women, pregnant women and Black and Minority Ethnic groups while also saying it would not have a negative impact.

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Asked to comment, a Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “Following an internal review, the council tax reduction scheme consultation will be reopening on Monday (October 30).

“We encourage everyone in Bristol to read the supporting information carefully and respond.”

An ACORN spokesperson said: “The council is reconsidering cuts to the council tax benefit because of pressure ACORN members around the city have been putting on for the last few months.

“We’ve guided hundreds of Bristolians to fill out their consultation, mobilised allies in trade unions and other organisations, gained the support of councillors from all the major parties in the council, spoken to the public at stalls around the city, confronted decision makers at public meetings and disrupted council meetings to keep this vital benefit on the agenda.

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“Bristol wants the council tax benefit defended. We won’t stop until it is.”

They said the CTRS was a “key lifeline” for 23,000 of the city’s lowest-income families and the proposed cuts were an “outrage” and could be “illegal”.

Last year the scheme cost £43.4million – 8.9 per cent of the authority’s total annual revenue budget, which covers day-to-day spending on council services, including the CTRS.

Full council will make the final decision on the cuts, ahead of the annual budget meeting in February, with any changes coming into effect from April.

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The consultation was previously open from August 1 to September 25, and all previous responses will be included in the final results.

It had not reopened by the time this story was published but should appear on this page: https://www.ask.bristol.gov.uk/

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