Councils have voiced concerns over the deliverability of a scheme to tackle soaring energy bills.
English local authorities were last week tasked with issuing a £150 ‘rebate’ to households in council tax bands A to D, covering 80% of homes.
The Treasury said it expected the ‘vast majority’ of direct debit users to receive the money in April and councils to be ‘ready to process claims’ for everyone else.
However, local government officers this week cast doubt on whether that was achievable.
One council chief executive told The MJ the scheme lacked clarity over how it would be done while there was an ‘inability of legacy software providers to be nimble enough to be able to give us the tools we need to administer the thing’.
They added: ‘The lack of clarity from central Government is astounding and piecemeal.’
Another council chief executive said the task had been ‘dumped’ on the sector.
Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Clive Betts, has written to local government secretary Michael Gove asking for answers to ‘important questions’ and calling for ‘firm assurances that councils will not incur any further costs from administering the rebates – which has the potential to be very costly’.
Some councils have reported less than half of their council tax payers use direct debit and they were unclear how to get money to them.
Questions also remain over a host of eligibility criteria.
The money will be paid as a grant rather than a discount to tax bills and the Government has said second and empty properties are exempt, but it will be paid to those whose tax bill is less than £150.
Councils will also be issued with £144m discretionary funding to support vulnerable people and those on low incomes not covered by the rebate.
Despite Government assurances that councils will receive funding for the rebates themselves and administrative costs, even some larger authorities have said they simply do not have the capacity to administer the scheme.