Kent County Council backtracks on tax exemption pledges for care leavers amid fears of ‘financial time bomb’


By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan

Kent County Council has backtracked from pledges to wipe the council tax bill for its care leavers aged up to 25 amid concerns the scheme would lead to a “financial time bomb”.

KCC officers told its corporate parenting panel they have been advised by its finance department to only make tax exemptions next year for its care leavers who are aged between 18 and 21.

This comes nine months after Kent’s young adult council challenged the county authority to pay council tax for its care leavers living in the county until the age of 25.

KCC’s corporate director for children, young people and education, Matt Dunkley, said yesterday (December 10), in a Maidstone public meeting, that concerns had been raised this could create a “financial time bomb”.

He said it could encourage dozens of older care leavers, who had lost touch with KCC over the last seven years, to apply for tax exemption at great cost to the council.

The corporate director did not rule out extending the scheme to care leavers aged up to 25 in the near future, but only after the proposal had been “fully costed”.

Thousands of care leavers can find themselves grappling with the challenges of living independently, managing a household, continuing education, or seeking employment.

Fears of spiralling debt and threats to tenancies, as well as low incomes and lack of family support, can make it more challenging for them to navigate this.

A KCC report published to the committee ahead of the meeting stated: “This can make care leavers a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to the collection of council tax when moving into independent accommodation.”

Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem) raised concerns about the revised tax exemption proposal during Kent County Council’s corporate parenting panel yesterday at Maidstone County Hall.

Voicing her unhappiness, the former KCC Liberal Democrat leader said: “I do not have any figures (in the report) to state why this is the case…. my preferred option is to pursue it to 25 in its current form.”

KCC officers said managing the “sheer number” of care leavers, aged between 21 and 25, would have a knock-on effect for the care leaving service, including an increase in case-loads for workers.

They said the “simplest” method for tax exemption would be to implement a payment scheme to fund council tax bills for young people whom are care leavers from age 18 to 21.

Full financial costings will be published next month in a council report ahead of a meeting of KCC children’s, young people and education committee on January 10.

A decision will then be made before anything is implemented.

Cllr Ann Allen (Con), the chairman of KCC’s corporate parenting panel, said: “There was clearly more work to it than we had anticipated, but I think we have made some progress.”

If approved, the scheme will be introduced from April 1, 2020, but there will be no entitlement for historic payments and the project would be reviewed annually as part of the care leavers offer.