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CTR - Report recommendations

Background

The default route for appealing against a council tax decision by a local authority is to the Valulation Appeals Committee.  While the intention was that this would also apply to council tax reduction, it became clear in early 2013 that the VACs were unwilling to take on this responsibility. 

As a result, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment & Sustainable Growth asked Jim McCafferty, the immediate past president of the IRRV Scotland, to:

"formulate a process to ensure the assessment of an individual's Council Tax Reduction may be independently reviewed, thereby ensuring individuals' rights to administrative justice are safeguarded.”

Jim McCafferty reported in June 2013.  His report recommended creating a bespoke system for hearing CTR reviews.  In particular, the following recommendations were made:

1. Regulations should be made under the Local Government Finance Act 1992 to prevent a Council Tax Reduction appeal being referred to a Valuation Appeals Committee.

2. The same regulations should provide for a Council Tax Reduction determination to be reviewed and for this review to be performed by a panel appointed by Ministers.

3. This new, distinct review process should have the features and safeguards of an independent Tribunal, including being based nationally and being independent of local government.

4. There should be the facility for reviews to be conducted either orally or in writing. Reviews may only be determined in writing with the consent of the parties and with the agreement of the Chair or the Panel Member appointed to determine the review.

5. Oral reviews should be conducted at neutral venues.

6. Ministers should, where possible, seek to appoint to the Panel performing CTR reviews fee paid judges from HMCTS presently qualified to hear Housing Benefit appeals.

7. Regulations should define the criteria for panel membership but should as a minimum include the following:

A person may only be appointed to the panel if that person—

(a) is a solicitor or advocate in Scotland of at least 5 years standing;

(b) has a five year general qualification within the meaning of section 71 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990(3); or

(3) Section 71 is relevantly amended by paragraph 4 of schedule 11 to the Constitutional Reform Act 2012 (c.4).

(c) is a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland, or a solicitor of the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland, of at least 5 years standing.

8. The review process should allow parties to be represented by any other person.

9. The review body should, if legally permissible, be named the Council Tax Reduction Scheme Review Panel

10. Administrative support for the review process should be provided by the Scottish Tribunal Service.

11. The Scottish Tribunal Service and the Scottish Government should develop webpages which provide easily accessed guidance to assist all parties to the review process.

12. The Scottish Tribunal Service should develop procedures that are straightforward, easily understood and which present no unnecessary barriers for any party to a dispute.

13. The Scottish Tribunal Service and the Scottish Government should ensure that all decision makers and clerking/secretariat staff are fully trained in all necessary requirements in order to discharge their duties efficiently and effectively.

14. The Scottish Government, working with the Scottish Tribunal Service, should promote any new procedures to local authorities and other groups who represent potential parties. This will include giving guidance on webpage contents and the application process.

15. Administrative co-operation should be established between the Scottish Tribunal Service and HM Courts and Tribunal Service to minimise the compliance burden to appellants seeking a Council Tax Reduction review and making a Housing Benefit appeal on the same grounds.

16. This report outlines an interim scheme which should be reviewed by April 2016.

Next steps

Scottish Ministers accepted Mr McCafferty's recommendations in full, and committed to bring forward the legislation necessary for a number of recommendations.  The Regulations were laid on 27 June.  Work on implementing recommendations that do not require legislation is ongoing. 

Subject to the will of Parliament, the new review scheme will come into force on 1 October 2013.