The report on pages 127 – 134 was presented by Joe Tynan.
The Chair welcomed the scheme as foster carers would be saving money and noted that very few Councils had this scheme.
Councillor Muldowney had no objections to supporting foster carers but had concerns about fairness and that it would not be a means-tested benefit as some people had higher levels of income. She sought reassurance that the scheme would not affect the Council’s ability to give discounts to families in dire financial need. Joe Tynan explained that some foster carers already received a certain level of benefits and the scheme would add to that but it would be dependent on the foster carer’s council tax entitlement. Sheila Murphy highlighted that the proposal focused on foster carers only and would not affect anyone else’s entitlement to or ability to claim benefits or any other benefits. It was hoped that the scheme would recruit more Thurrock foster carers for Thurrock’s children. The recruitment process was rigorous and could take between four to six months which also ensured people were not just taking advantage of the discounted council tax scheme. The Council’s current foster carers were thrilled to be recognised through the scheme and it showed the commitment of the Council to people who opened their homes to Thurrock’s children who needed it.
Councillor Rigby felt that the scheme was excellent and would save foster carers in the long term. It would also be good if the scheme attracted more foster carers within the Borough.
Councillor Okunade pointed out that some children were cared for out of the Borough and questioned whether those foster carers out of the Borough would benefit from the scheme and how. Joe Tynan clarified that in-house foster carers would qualify for the council tax exemption regardless of where they lived. When future foster carers were recruited, there would be clear guidelines and boundaries on who would qualify for the scheme. He explained that foster carers out of the Borough would be paid an allowance that would be capped at £1,600.
Councillor Okunade questioned how the service planned to promote the scheme to attract local foster carers if out of borough foster carers were also entitled to the scheme as an allowance. Joe Tynan explained that the current in-house foster carers that lived outside the Borough would qualify for the scheme as an allowance. If any new out of borough foster carers joined, they would not qualify for the scheme. Councillor Halden added that page 131 highlighted that exceptional circumstances could be made at the discretion of Senior Officers where they felt it was necessary.
Councillor Akinbohun questioned how the scheme would benefit someone who already received a council tax exemption. Joe Tynan answered that a person who already had 100% council tax discount would not benefit from the scheme but others who were on 50% exemption would. Cases would be assessed according personal circumstances. He went on to say that the Council’s foster carer pay rates were competitive and with the council tax exemption, if approved, it would put Thurrock ahead of the competition with this unique selling point.
For Members to recommend that the introduction of a Council Tax exemption scheme starting in April 2021 (2021/2022 financial year) as outlined in section 3 in this report is considered by Cabinet.