Complaints prompt Borders council to rethink review of tax discount

Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown.
Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown.

Council bosses have agreed to be more lenient after giving single people just two weeks to prove they are entitled to a council tax reduction.

Adults living on their own, not counting children, are entitled to a 25% single-occupancy discount.

However, on Wednesday, March 13, Scottish Borders Council announced a region-wide review of that discount and sent letters to affected households demanding they fill out an online form before March 31.

Failure to do so, the letter said, would result in the discount being terminated.

Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, calling that approach into question at last Thursday’s full council meeting, said: “There have been complaints on social media about the direct tone of the letter.

“I have told councillor Robin Tatler, the executive member for finance, that my concern is not so much the language, though that could be a little less blunt.

“I simply don’t think it is reasonable to give householders just two weeks to respond. What if they are ill or away? This just generates anxiety.

“The council should set an honest timescale, and my question is intended to give councillor Tatler an opportunity to do this in public.”

Almost 21,000 households in the Borders are currently in receipt of the reduction.

Fellow Tweeddale East councillor Mr Tatler told the chamber: “To ensure the best use of resources, we used the annual council tax bills as an opportunity to issue an insert asking people to renew their entitlement to single-occupancy discount online.

“To ensure a significant response, residents were asked to confirm their status within a two-week time period.

“Given the process is very straightforward, and that support is available from customer advice and support staff, we consider this a suitable timeframe.

“However, I wish to assure you that reminders will be issued for those who have not responded before the deadline.”

In a follow-up question, Mr Bell asked: “It was an insert, and we got a members’ briefing. That briefing had a timescale on it different from the timescale that is on this insert.

“The insert isn’t headed or branded by Scottish Borders Council, nor is it signed.

“It does look like an important notice and has resulted in some anxiety amongst the recipients of this.

“I think we need to find a way of giving a more tempered statement to the public that indicates a more reasonable approach and gives some assurance to residents.”

Mr Tatler replied: “Since I got this, I’ve held a meeting with council directors and we discussed a number of issues, including formatting,e and those points have been taken on board and the deadlines on the reminder letters will be increased.

“As of now, we have received 13,927 responses out of 20,550 households that receive this discount.”