§ APPLICATION OF SECTION 1
§ '.—(1) Section 1 of this Act shall have effect for the purpose of determining the right of any person to a rate rebate and the amount of rate rebate to which any person is entitled in relation to the rebate period beginning on 1st October 1973 and to each subsequent rebate period.
§ (2) Section 1 of this Act shall also have effect in relation to the current rebate period for the purpose of determining the right of any person to a rate rebate and the amount of rate rebate to which any person is entitled if, in either case, he makes an application for the rebate after the passing of this Act.
§ (3) A rebate application in respect of the current rebate period may be made after the passing of this Act by any person notwithstanding that he has made a rebate application in respect of that period which has either been granted, or refused, or has not been dealt with, before the passing of this Act, but where a second application is made in respect of that period, the rating authority, in determining the amount of rebate payable in respect of the later application, shall take into account the amount of rebate payable, if any, in respect of the earlier application.
§ (4) Without prejudice to subsection (4) of section 49 of the General Rate Act 1967 (rebate applications to be made before the end of a 879 rebate period) subsection (2) of that section (reduction of rebates in case of delayed applications) shall not apply in relation to any application made after the passing of this Act in respect of the current rebate period by a person whose reckonable income for the purposes of that application is reduced by reason of this Act.
§ (5) Except in so far as the context otherwise requires, expressions used in this section and in the General Rate Act 1967 have the same meanings in this section as in that Act, and "the current rebate period" means the rebate period beginning on 1st April 1973.
§ (6) In the application of this section to Scotland—
- (a) for the reference to the General Rate Act 1967 there shall be substituted a reference to the Rating Act 1966;
- (b) for the reference to section 49 of the said Act of 1967 there shall be substituted a reference to section 5 of the said Act of 1966;
- (c) for the references to 1st October and 1st April there shall be substituted the references relative to the said dates respectively contained in section 5(10(a) of the said Act of 1966'.—[Mr. Whitehead.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I should like to say a little about this. The House will understand that in the absence of any provision being made to the contrary in this Bill it would come into operation on the date of Royal Assent, but the calculation of rent rebates in England and Wales is assessed by reference to the rates payable in the half-yearly periods beginning on 1st April and 1st October. It was on one such calculation, on the period of 1st October last, that a constituent first brought these matters to my attention.
In Scotland, however, the financial year of rating authorities begins on 16th May —or later, although I think that is correct, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) must interrupt me if my ignorance of Scottish matters shows through. The rate rebate periods in Scotland are 16th May and 16th November, 29th May and 29th November, and 1st June and 1st December.
Responsibility for the administration of the rent rebate scheme rests with local authorities. Local authorities may not have retained copies of applications for rebates made by domestic ratepayers which have been refused, as many have 880 been, on the grounds, for example that the applicant's income exceeded the prescribed qualifying income limits because he was in receipt of an attendance allowance. We know of many examples of this having happened. It was one such example which brought this anomalous situation to my notice in the first place.
Under Section 49(1) and (4) of the General Rate Act 1949 and Section 5(1) and (4) of the Rating Act 1966 in the case of Scotland, a domestic ratepayer is entitled under the scheme to a full rebate in the appropriate half-yearly rate rebate period, provided that he makes application two months before and not later than one month following the beginning of the rebate period.
If an application is made more than one month after the beginning of the rebate period, the local authority may reduce proportionately any rebate payable under Section 49(2) of the General Rate Act in England and Wales and Section 5(2) of the Rating Act 1966 in the case of Scotland. No rebate is payable if an application is made after the close of the rebate period to which it relates.
The objective of the new clause is to ensure that attendance allowances are disregarded for rate rebate purposes from the beginning of any rebate period starting on or after 1st April this year, a date which has already passed. But, for the reason given to the House already, it is not practicable to place upon local authorities responsibility for the recalculation of applications for rebate already dealt with. The new clause places the onus on the ratepayer to re-apply for a rebate following the passage of this legislation.
Since this is a somewhat obscure Bill, covering only a fairly small area, and there are only a comparatively few people involved who perhaps already have had their applications turned down, I hope that something can be done. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us that he will see that the new conditions for re-application are publicised as much as possible, so that ratepayers may know that attendance allowances will no longer count as income for rate rebate purposes. I should like the terms of the Bill publicised as much as possible, should it pass today. I hope that the Minister will tell us what he has in mind in that direction.
881 So that this disregard will be available from 1st April last, it is also necessary to disapply the provisions of Section 49 of the 1967 Act and of Section 5 of the 1966 Act to which I have referred. Subsection (4) of the new clause provides accordingly. In the absence of such a provision, a local authority would have discretion to reduce proportionately the rebate granted as the result of an application under the Bill.
Subsection (1) applies the Bill's provisions to each rebate period beginning on or after 1st October 1973. Subsection (2) provides that these provisions shall apply to the rate rebate period beginning on 1st April 1973, or on 16th or 29th May or 1st June in the case of Scotland. The rebates will not be reduced because the application is made after the beginning of that period.
Subsection (3) allows a ratepayer to make a second application for a rebate in the current rebate period following the passage of the Bill. We hope that many will do so if the terms of the Bill and the new clause are adequately publicised. Any rebate granted will, however, take account of any rebate already afforded under the 1967 and 1966 Acts.
Subsection (4) disapplies, in the case of the current rebate period only, the provisions of Section 49(2) of the 1967 Act, which permits a local authority to pay a proportionately reduced rebate to a late applicant.
Having outlined the reasons for the new clause and, I hope, trailed my coat a little to the Minister in terms of the arrangements which may be made if the Bill is successful both here and in another place, I should now like to invite the Minister to intervene and to tell us how the Bill may be publicised in the event of its success.
§ Mr. Astor
I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and the new clause. Clearly one should be a little hesitant in supporting a clause which includes an element of retrospection. But in this case it is fully justified.
When the constant attendance allowance was introduced, we all understood that it would be exempted from means tests or tax. Perhaps it was because of the lack 882 of co-ordination that this provision was not included in the previous legislation.
I fully support the hon. Gentleman in this attempt to ensure that disabled people will be entitled to this benefit.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
In commenting upon the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. White-head), I should say something about the general background of the Bill.
The background essentially is that rate rebates are payable as of right to ratepayers in England, Wales and Scotland provided that their gross income does not exceed certain prescribed limits. In 1971–72, the latest year for which I have figures, over 800,000 ratepayers in England and Wales benefited under the scheme and in Scotland just under 100,000 ratepayers benefited. The total cost of the rebates granted in 1971–72 was almost £22 million, 75 per cent. of the total cost of the scheme being met by the Exchequer and the balance coming from the general body of ratepayers in the communities in question.
With one exception—the £10 bonus paid to pensioners and others just before last Christmas—the relevant legislation has not previously defined income for rate rebate purposes. At present, attendance allowances under the scheme introduced in December 1971 have been regarded as income for rate rebate purposes. The background to the Bill, as the hon. Gentleman very fairly described it on Second Reading, was to disregard these attendance allowances as income for rate rebate purposes.
In saying to the hon. Gentleman that his new clause is welcome, I ought to put on record that it is very difficult indeed to estimate the number of ratepayers who will benefit under the Bill. Although we know the total number of persons receiving attendance allowances, we do not know for sure how many of those people are ratepayers and, therefore, how many will benefit under the Bill. However, I estimate—I stress that this is an estimate —that about 6,500 people will benefit. I estimate that the total cost of the relief granted will be about £170,000 in 1973–74. and possibly rising beyond that. For that reason, 75 per cent. of the total cost, that is, about £130,000, will be met from national taxation. That is why my hon. 883 Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury agreed the Financial Resolution.
On the specific wording of the new clause, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my Department and I are entirely content with it. In order that ratepayers may know that their attendance allowances will no longer count as income for this purpose, the hon. Gentleman is entirely right to say that there will need to be wide and effective publicity, particularly as in many cases the ratepayers who will benefit are not people who, perhaps, in most cases, do a great deal of reading of official documents.
Therefore, it is my Department's intention to ensure that there is wide publicity, but publicity that is directed specifically to the people in question. We shall have to give some thought as to how selectively to make known the new benefits to those who will be able to take advantage of them. But I assure the Committee that, both through local authorities and in other ways through the social welfare services, we shall do our utmost to ensure that those eligible to benefit will do so.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does the Minister consider it advisable to suggest to borough treasurers, for example, that information about the Bill might be circulated with the general rate demand sent out from their departments?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I gladly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we shall look at any reasonable and practicable way of disseminating this information.
This is a modest, but good measure. The Government's support for it has been made clear in the Financial Resolution and in our acceptance of the extension of the amendments and the new clause.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that if he is to ask the treasurers to send out notices with the rate demands he will have to do it quickly because the rate demands are going out any moment now?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am aware of the point made by my hon. Friend. However, it is even more complicated than that, as the hon. Member for Derby, North has pointed out.
The Government are in strong support of the Bill. The hon. Member for Derby, 884 North and his hon. Friends can rightly claim paternity for it, but I hope that he will agree that my Department has devoted a good deal of maternal or at least foster mother's care to it. I should like to think that this has been an exercise in partnership between both sides of the House, between a private Member and the Government, and that the result is to do a good turn for a small but not unimportant group of our fellow citizens who need and will now get this help.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.