Care leavers and council tax exemptions

The issue of financial hardship and the impact of poverty on care leavers is well documented. Care leavers are particularly vulnerable when it comes to financial hardship. Two recent reports by The Children’s Society, Wolf at the Door and the Cost of Being Care Free both demonstrate the financial vulnerability of care leavers.

One of the the main concerns is how council tax debt can escalate quickly increasing the pressure on care leavers.  In England, the Children’s Society have been working closely with Councils to encourage them to exempt care leavers from council tax until the age of 26 and this is beginning to slowly gain traction south of the border. Every week we seem to hear of increasing numbers of local authorities embracing their corporate parenting duties positively, exercising their delegated powersand committing to exempt care leavers from council tax payments.

The Scottish scene

In Scotland, council tax powers, including exemptions, are determined through national legislation by the Scottish Government, namely the Local Government Finance Act 1992. At the moment authorities don’t have delegated powers to exempt care leavers from paying council tax. In order to effect any exemption for care leavers as a group, and to ensure it is available nationally rather than adding to local variation of provision which exits at the moment, it would appear to require a change in regulation agreed at Ministerial/Government level. This would then allow local authorities to exempt care leavers from council tax under their corporate parenting responsibilities.

The principles for pursuing this change are clearly outlined in the Scottish Care Leavers Covenant, particularly in:

  • the principles of 'care-proofing of policy' where corporate parents recognise the vulnerability of care leavers as young adults, and prioritise and reference them as a ‘protected group'
  • the assumption of entitlement, where corporate parents assume all care leavers are entitled to services, support and opportunities, up to their 26th birthday, and where discretion exists in definitions of vulnerability, or in giving priority access, these will be in favour of care leavers

Over half of Scotland’s local authorities have now signed up corporately to endorse the principles and implement the actions outlined in the Scottish Care Leavers Covenant. The Covenant has also been endorsed by a number of individual MSP’s from all the main political parties.

Support for exemption for care leavers

Recent contact with Scottish local authorities has shown significant support for similar exemptions to be available for care leavers here in Scotland. 15 out of 32 authorities contacted over the last month have indicated that they are willing to advocate for the devolved power to exempt care leavers locally.

Amending existing regulations at national level to empower local authorities to exempt their care leavers from council tax payments would be very positive step in addressing the very real issues of poverty and debt which blight the lives of far too many of our care leavers. It would be a great example of corporate parenting in action at both national and local level, and one which the Scottish Care Leavers Alliance fully supports.