Council Tax assumes that there are at least two people living in any property. If only one person lives at the address as their main residence, they may qualify for a 25 per cent discount.
The clampdown is to start next month, with the council calling in two outside agencies, credit checkers Experian and the council’s revenues and benefits ICT provider, Northgate. Having just made 200-odd staff redundant across the council, and still seeking more “economies” or “efficiencies”, it is difficult to know who will be around at Taberner House to implement anything that Experian and Northgate discover.
On average, 30 per cent of households across the country qualify for the single person discount. Croydon, according to the council’s own figures, has 34 per cent of households claiming SPD.
In an internal Croydon document seen by Inside Croydon, the council claims that this statistical disparity “further supports the need for the review”.
“Ensuring discounts are only given to residents who are eligible is important, as each discount results in a direct reduction in income to the council and therefore in funds available to run local services,” the council document says.
Any reasonable person might make the same argument for the council – “Efficiency is in our DNA”, according to deputy CEO Nathan Elvery – to do more to reduce the ever-growing mountain of millions of pounds of uncollected Council Tax.
The methods to be used by Croydon’s agents in this SPD exercise are intriguing. In this age where we are constantly warned about how much personal data we “share”, and the perils of “identity theft”, our council will be using the information held on us by financial supersnoops Experian.
“The review will consist of crossing referencing the council’s database against the large number of databases held by Experian to identify where a property may hold more than one adult occupier. It is only where a discrepancy/match is discovered that a customer will then be contacted,” the council says.
Croydon expects around 10,000 households to be contacted in this review, by letter, and possibly then with a reminder and an official visit, a significant added workload for the council’s shrinking staff.
The first batch of letters will be dispatched during the week commencing July 11.
Croydon Council’s choice of commercial partners is, as ever, enlightening.
During the past decade, Experian has moved its corporate headquarters from Nottingham to Dublin, presumably for tax avoidance benefits, and made 200 Britons redundant as it outsourced part of its operations to India. Last month, the global company reported a 13 per cent rise in its annual profits, to more than £500 million.
Experian’s PR department has helped to generate this latest nice little earner with Croydon on SPD by putting out an estimate that local councils across Britain are losing out around £100 million a year in improperly allowed discounts. A wonderful headline-grabbing figure which is, at best, a “guesstimate”.
Experian running checks on Croydon residents through its database and computer systems is one thing. But the real work to follow up on wrongly claimed discounts will ultimately still have to be done by council officers.
As David Magor, of the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation, said in a recent interview in the Guardian on similar “automations” of benefit fraud investigations and finance enforcement, “There will be a tendency to move away from human hands dealing with fraud and relying on risk-based software, which is fine to give you an indication of a potential fraudster.
“But at the end of the day, the real work is done by local government officers getting their hands dirty.”
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