1. Ms Carpenter introduced the report and, with Caroline Smith, Assistant Director, Corporate Parenting, Integrated Children’s Services, and Mr Dunkley, responded to comments and questions from the Panel about the council tax exemption challenge, including the following:-
a) it was suggested that all Panel members check with their local councils to find out the current practice around exemptions from, or reductions to, council tax payments for young people, and the eligibility criteria they applied in terms of age and educational/training/employment status. Once a full picture became available, it would hopefully be possible to identify a model of best practice and encourage other councils to adopt this. Ms Smith advised that initial discussions with district councils had identified the figures involved. Some councils had only a very small cohort of young people who were likely to be eligible. Once district councils were on board, a proposal would be brought to the Panel for its support.Ms Smith undertook to provide Members with a summary of negotiations with each district council around the county;
b) it was pointed out that to exempt young people from paying council tax could be cost-effective in the long-run as young people getting into arrears would then need help to sort out their debts, and this could take up more cost and staff time later;
c) it was important that district councils publicise any exemption scheme they ran so young people knew they might be eligible and could make an application. Leaving care and starting out on your own was difficult enough and any financial help available would make a valuable difference;
d) hopefully, all district councils would be willing to join a county-wide exemption scheme, but if any were not able to, it might be possible for the County Council to fill in the gap. Mr Dunkley undertook to liaise with the Director of Finance to check what the County Council was able to do to support young people who may find themselves without a local exemption scheme;
e) personal advisors for care leavers would have a role to play in letting young people know about such a scheme and could help them apply to it. However, the Care Leavers Survey had highlighted that some young people had little contact with their personal advisor and hence might miss the information and not be able to apply. The paperwork for such schemes could be complicated and young people would need help and support with the process. Personal advisors would also need to be trained in accessing any exemption scheme so they could support young people in the most effective way. Ms Smith advised that there was now a designated member of staff to advise care leavers on issues relating to benefits. Ms Carpenter added that feedback from young people had shown that the publication of the 18+ offer had made it easier for young people and foster carers to identify and understand young people’s entitlements to benefits; and
f) Mr Dunkley sought the Panel’s support for the council tax exemption challenge before he was to approach district councils and finance colleagues. The Panel confirmed its support.
2. It was RESOLVED that:-
a) the challenge card progress to date be noted; and
b) the new challenge card - that all Kent Care Leavers living in Kent be exempt from paying Council Tax (until the age of 25, if they are still engaging with the 18+ Service) –be accepted, and all options be investigated to take this forward.