Young people leaving the care system in Oxfordshire will get a helping hand after local councils granted them council tax relief up to the age of 25. They want to see care leavers succeed into independence and be protected from threats that could lead to debt, eviction and ultimately homelessnes.
Many Oxfordshire care leavers have experienced challenges in childhood and adolescence. When care leavers move to their own tenancy, it is often their first experience of having to manage a budget completely on their own, including their own council tax account.
The council tax relief was recently passed at Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Meeting and will be introduced from April 2020.
The discount has the backing of Oxford City Council, Cherwell District Council, West Oxfordshire District Council, South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council; supported by Thames Valley Police.
Together the organisations have worked to introduce the scheme to help young people who have experienced care in Oxfordshire.
A care leaver is an adult (aged 18+) who spent a period in care as a child, under the age of 16. Such care could be in foster care, residential care – mainly children’s homes – or other arrangements outside the immediate family.
Under the policy, 100 per cent council tax discount will be offered to care leavers aged 18-21 years old, after other statutory discounts have been applied. Care leavers experiencing financial difficulties after their 22nd birthday, up to the age of 25, will also be eligible for the discount if they need it.
Care leavers often have problems paying their bill and are being forced to sacrifice basic necessities in life to pay council tax. By providing these exemptions, the councils will give care leavers the additional support required to help prepare them for independence.
Councillor Steve Harrod, Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services, said: “We are delighted that our partners in the district councils, Oxford City Council and Thames Valley Police share our commitment to give care leavers the help they need to become independent.
“All parents want to help their children as they take their first steps towards living independently; and the County Council is no different. We want our care leavers to be successful in life, and we hope this will help.”
Councillor Tony Ilott, Cherwell District CouncilLead Member for Finance and Governance, said: “Care leavers face many challenges, often exacerbated by financial difficulties. We hope this council tax exemption will remove one such pressure, helping them to adjust and prepare for future independence.”
Councillor Andy Crawford, Vale of White Horse District Council Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “It can be challenging for any young person to deal with the additional costs they face when they turn 18. Those leaving care are also less likely to have a support network in place to help them out so it’s important that they are provided with this additional help when taking up their own tenancy and have to budget for themselves for the first time.”
Councillor David Turner, South Oxfordshire District Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “This is a very important move which will provide some much-needed assistance to care leavers, many of whom will have very limited finances to pay their bills and living costs.”
Marie Tidball, Oxford City Council Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities, said: “This is really important support for care-leavers as they navigate their first years of independent living, when they are likely to face a number of challenges, enabling better financial inclusion and to help meet their needs and aspirations.
“As we announced Oxford City Council is one of a small handful of councils to retain our council tax reduction scheme at 100% for working age households. This demonstrates our commitment to preventing homelessness and our support for financially vulnerable people in our communities.
“Government funding cuts mean that three million more households across England now have to pay some council tax or a greater proportion of their bill than in 2013. I’m proud that Oxford is bucking that trend and that we’re doing what we can to support people who can least afford to pay the price of austerity.”
Councillor Toby Morris, West Oxfordshire District Council Cabinet Member for Resources and Deputy Leader, said: “This proposal reduces council tax liability and in doing so provides real, practical help to young people starting out life on low incomes as they develop budgeting and independent living skills.”
Matthew Barber, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, said: “We are pleased to support this announcement for care leavers across Oxfordshire. For those embarking on their first steps of independence after leaving the care system, it can be daunting to budget and manage paying bills. The provision of council tax relief will alleviate financial pressures and provide additional support to prepare them for independence following the care system.”
Financial pressures stemming from council tax and daily living costs can adversely affect the mental health and employment prospects for care leavers.
Affordable housing in Oxfordshire is hard to secure. The County Council is encouraging anyone interested in offering supported lodgings or a room to contact: Michele.Howe@Oxfordshire.gov.uk Tel: 01865 323126.
Anyone struggling to pay the Council Tax is encouraged to contact their local authority to find out if they are eligible for support.