Council Tax frozen again

Written on . Posted in Business, Business rates, Council tax, Local business, Meetings, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home, Your money

Low tax priority as District Council freezes Council Tax again.

Stimulating the local economy and keeping Council Tax low to support hard-pressed local residents and business have been set as key priorities by the councillor responsible for setting budgets at Epping Forest District Council. Councillor Syd Stavrou, Finance Portfolio Holder made the commitment as budgets were agreed at the meeting of Epping Forest District Council on Tuesday 19 February 2013.

Reductions in staff costs, a freeze on Council Tax and no increase in pay and display car park charges were key features in Epping Forest District Council’s own budget for 2013/14. There will also be no increase in the Council Tax levy collected by the District on behalf of Essex County Council, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and many local town and parish councils. However, the charge set for the first time by the newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Nick Alston is to increase by 3.49 per cent (£4.77 a year on an average Band D property).

Watch the webcast

Councillor Stavrou said: “Epping Forest District Council has not increased its own share of the Council Tax since 2010.  Savings of £1.4 million have been achieved in the 2013/14 budget. By changing the way it structures and delivers services, Epping Forest District Council has been able to make savings without major reductions in front-line services. We have good levels of reserves. A significant proportion of the savings in the new budget comes from reducing the size of the district council workforce (saving salary costs of £400,000) without the need for compulsory redundancies.  By delivering services in new and better ways the council has further increased efficiency.”

She continued: “Contributions from the New Homes Bonus and high levels of recycling by residents also help to keep Council Tax down. Epping Forest District Council will protect front-line services while balancing large reductions in Central Government funding. Additional savings of almost £200,000 in 2012/13 have helped cushion the council from one of the toughest spending rounds I can remember. Stimulating the local economy is one of our top priorities. The protection of local services and freeze on Council Tax comes as many other councils continue to make major cuts in services to meet budget pressures.”

Gross expenditure (excluding the Housing Revenue Account), the amount Epping Forest District Council spends before income is taken into account, will be £73 million next year. Less than £7.5 million will be raised in Council Tax towards the District Council’s net expenditure budget of just over £14 million. About £3 million will come from Business Rates (National Non-Domestic Rates) with most of the rest coming from other income such as reduced Government grants, fees, charges, rent on commercial property and investments.

Broken down into its constituent parts, the total bill for an average Band D Council taxpayer in Epping Forest district will be:

* £148.77 to Epping Forest District Council

and collected on behalf of organisations

* £1,086.75 to Essex County Council
* £141.48 to Essex Police
* £66.42 to Essex Fire Authority

Parish and town council precepts will vary and can be seen on the Council tax precepts.

Councillor Syd Stavrou added: “We believe local residents are best placed to decide how to spend their money and we hope they will spend it locally. Our aim is to stimulate the local economy by ensuring local people have as much money in their pockets to spend on local goods and services as possible. We are also holding down pay and display car park charges to encourage as much of that spend as possible in our local high streets.”

Other items on the agenda at Full Council

In a council meeting dominated by finance and budgets, other items included updates on the Local Plan, economic development and the annual conference of the Local Strategic Partnership, One Epping Forest. Councillors also expressed concern following uncertainty caused by Essex County Council over future funding of the locally provided Careline emergency alarm service.

Questions to members of the Cabinet ranged from the Buckhurst Hill parking review, the resumption of council house building and concerns about rough sleepers to fly-tipping of dead horses, the condition of shops surrounding Sainsbury’s in Debden Broadway and exceptional levels of recycling reaching nearly 64 per cent in the last quarter.

Other questions were raised over London Underground congestion statistics on the Central Line following the latest announcements on Cross Rail by the Mayor of London. 

Epping Forest District Councillors receive a basic allowance of £3,150 a year. At the annual review of their expenses, councillors rejected an independent panel recommendation to increase their basic allowance after being told they receive one of the lowest in the country. While expressing thanks to the panel for their work, councillors felt that any increase would be inappropriate when many residents are struggling in the current economic climate.

Councillors supported the creation of a new Cabinet Committee responsible for taking forward the new council house building programme.

Council Tax Benefit change is coming

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Buckhurst Hill, Chigwell, Community, Consultation, Council tax, Epping, Housing, Loughton, Ongar, Residents, Waltham Abbey, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home, Your money

A new scheme called Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) will replace Council Tax Benefit from the 1 April 2013. This new support scheme will be different from the current Council Tax Benefit scheme and is not so generous.

Local Council Tax Support poster
Local Council Tax Support poster

This scheme applies only to people of working age. People of pension age will continue to have their LCTS calculated in the same way as they currently have their Council Tax Benefit calculated.

Although the Government has introduced the LCTS scheme, they have reduced the funding that we receive and therefore we have had to reduce the amount of help that we can give working age people towards their Council Tax.

Changes from 1 April 2013

If you currently do not pay any Council Tax you will now have to pay something.

If you already pay Council Tax after your benefit entitlement has been deducted you will have to pay more than you have previously towards your Council Tax.

Council Tax Support will fall by over £1 million in Epping Forest.

If you have questions about this new scheme, come along to one of our Local Council Tax Support surgeries where you can talk to our Benefit and Council Tax team about the scheme and the payment options available to you.

Local Council Tax Support surgeries

  • Monday 25 February 2013
    Debden, Little Oaks Children’s Centre, IG10 3TD – 1.30pm to 3.30pm
  • Tuesday 26 February 2013
    Waltham Abbey, Waltham Abbey Town Hall, EN9 1DE – 9.30am to 12.30pm
  • Wednesday 27 February 2013
    Chigwell, The Limes Centre, IG7 5LP – 9.30am to 4.30pm
  • Friday 1 March 2013
    Ongar, Ongar Adult Community Learning, CM5 0GA – 9.30am to 11.30am
  • Monday 4 March 2013
    Buckhurst Hill, Little Buddies Children’s Centre, IG9 5ES – 2pm to 4pm
  • Wednesday 6 March 2013
    Epping, Epping Forest District Council Offices, CM16 4BZ – 9.30am to 3.30pm
  • Thursday 14 March 2013
    Waltham Abbey, Hazelwood Children’s Centre, EN9 3EL – 12.30pm to 3pm

Financial assistance to help you improve your home

Written on . Posted in Buckhurst Hill, Building control, Business, Chigwell, Commercial properties, Epping, Grants, Housing, Housing repairs, Loughton, Older people, Ongar, Planning, Private housing, Residents, Waltham Abbey, Your community, Your home, Your money

Do you know that Epping Forest District Council offers financial assistance and grants to home owners and private tenants?

We may be able to assist if you need house repairs, energy efficiency works, or adaptations to your home because you are disabled. We also offer assistance to home owners wanting to bring an empty home back into use.

Financial assistance to help you improve your home

The types of financial assistance available include

  • disabled facilities grants up to £30,000
  • decent homes repayable assistance up to £10,000
  • small works repayable assistance up to £3,000
  • empty homes repayable assistance up to £10,000

Find out more

Full details of the eligibility criteria, and how you can apply, are available from the Private Sector Grants Team

  • email PSHGrantsandCare@eppingforestdc.gov.uk
  • phone 01992 564092
  • write to – Private Sector Grants Team, Housing Directorate, Epping Forest District Council, Civic Offices, High Street, Epping, Essex CM16 4BZ

Council Tax freeze agreed by cabinet

Written on . Posted in Business, Business rates, Community, Council tax, Councillors, Democracy, Grants, Housing, Local business, Meetings, North Weald Airfield, Out and about, Planning, Private housing, Regulations, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your environment, Your home, Your money

Council Tax freeze, new homes and disabled toilets were on the agenda when Epping Forest District Council’s cabinet met on Monday 4 February 2013.

Watch the webcast

Council Tax Frozen

There will be no increase in the Council Tax precept set by Epping Forest District Council if the recommendations of the cabinet are accepted by all councillors when the budgets are set later in February. The annual charge for a Band D property will remain the same for the third year in succession at £148.77.

Cabinet agreed the recommendations to full council despite further decreases in Government grant thanks in part to a number of savings reducing the next financial year’s ongoing revenue budget target to £14.37 million.

Councillor Syd Stavrou Finance Portfolio Holder emphasised Epping Forest District was and would remain a ‘low-tax’ council for the long term.

Councillor Chris Whitbread, Leader of the Council described the report as a ‘good news budget’ with £800,000 of savings coming mostly from ‘back offices’, no enforced redundancies, and fees and charges such as car park pay and display prices kept down. He acknowledged challenges ahead but remained upbeat about the council’s prospects.

After the meeting, Councillor Stavrou said: “At the current time with money so tight, it has never been so important to support local business and keep costs down for hard working local residents. Each member of the cabinet has played an important part in examining all service costs to reduce spending wherever possible while continuing to protect local services. Working with staff, we have found many new and better ways to deliver services without cutting quality and I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the process.”

Obsolete bedsits to be converted to new homes

Marden Close, a scheme of 20 bedsit flats developed for older residents in the 1960s is to be converted into 10 modern one-bedroom flats. The vacant buildings had previously proved very unpopular and difficult to let. Cabinet favoured retaining Marden Close rather than pursuing earlier options to transfer it to a social housing landlord. Proposals also found favour with cabinet for the lease of Faversham Hall to Chigwell Parish Council. East Thames Housing Group will project manage the conversions. Works could start on site within 6 months.

Councillors welcomed the scheme which will create much needed accommodation for people on the housing waiting list.

North Weald consultants appointed

Drivers Jonas Deloitte has been appointed to take forward the review of North Weald Airfield. The £145,000 brief is expected to make recommendations for consideration by councillors for the future of the airfield.

Council to fund CAB debt advisors

Cabinet agreed £67,000 to Epping Forest Citizens’ Advice Bureau for the appointment of 2 full-time debt advisors. The funding will cover 2 18 month contracts to begin in April. The agreement includes a commitment from the CAB to support residents through the Limes Centre in Chigwell. This funding is additional money to support homelessness prevention over and above the council’s regular CAB funding of more than £100,000 a year.

Better disabled toilet facilities for Epping and Buckhurst Hill

The accessible superloo currently provided in Bakers Lane Epping is set to be relocated to Buckhurst Hill once a major refurbishment of the Bakers Lane public toilet block has been completed. Cabinet approved additional expenditure of £85,000 for Bakers Lane and £21,000 towards relocating the superloo. The improvements are expected to be especially welcomed by people with disabilities who will find accessibility much improved through the initiative.

Information Service Partnership

Written on . Posted in Buckhurst Hill, Community, Epping, Loughton, Older people, Ongar, Residents, Waltham Abbey, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your home, Your money

Visitors to Epping Forest District Council’s Information Centres in Loughton and Waltham Abbey will find new arrangements in place. Under the terms of a new arrangement with Essex County Council, information about the District Council will be made available via libraries in Waltham Abbey, Loughton, Chipping Ongar and Buckhurst Hill.

District Council information is now available at librariesThe new arrangement is set to benefit residents and both councils. Access to information about Epping Forest District Council will become more widely available with later opening on week-nights and access on Saturdays. The District Council will also make savings on accommodation and staff costs.

Essex County Council will receive a regular income for providing the service as well as a potential increase in residents visiting and making use of other core library services.

The District Council will continue to manage its own main information and reception desk at the Civic Offices in Epping. Cash payments to Epping Forest District Council at Waltham Abbey Town Hall are expected to transfer to Waltham Abbey Library later in the year following the installation of a special kiosk.

Councillor Hal Ulkun, Support Services Portfolio Holder for Epping Forest District Council said: “I am delighted to announce this new partnership with Essex County Council. Money is tight for everyone and it makes great financial sense for both Epping Forest District and Essex County Council to co-operate by reducing costs and providing services more efficiently together. Even more importantly, people rely more than ever on access to council services during tough economic times. Working together we can enhance services in Ongar and Buckhurst Hill, too.”

Library staff received training in December. They will be able to act as an advice and signposting service for residents to Epping Forest District Council services. Residents will also be able to access District Council services via library-based computers with the assistance of library staff and contact staff at the main District Council offices via dedicated phones in each of the four libraries.

Other local District Council services such as the Broadway Housing Office and Limes Farm Community Hall in Chigwell will continue to provide specialist services as normal.

Councillor Ulkun added: “With modern technology we can use electronic links, backed up by good old-fashioned methods such as the District Council ‘Messenger’ collecting and delivering post between the District in Epping and the libraries in Loughton, Waltham Abbey, Ongar and Buckhurst Hill. Library staff are already experts in searching and providing information for residents. Many of our older and more vulnerable residents are especially reliant on the information service and I am very confident the libraries will continue the fine traditions of service previously provided by our own staff.”

County Councillor Jeremy Lucas Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Customer Services, Environment and Culture said: “I am very pleased to add Epping Forest District Council to the growing list of partners who are sharing space in our libraries for the benefit of their local community. Libraries should remain the hub of communities and Essex County Council is always keen to discuss ways of working with partners to find savings while improving services to our residents.”

Welfare Reform drop-in session

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Chigwell, Community, Council tax, Housing, Older people, Regulations, Residents, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your money

In April 2013 major changes are happening to the benefit system. We have organised a drop-in session at the Limes Centre in Chigwell on Friday 11 January 2013 to inform people about welfare reforms.

Come along between 9am and 12 noon to find out what the changes could mean for you.

The Limes Centre in ChigwellChanges that will start in April 2013 include 

If you are unsure of how these major changes may affect you, benefit officers will be available to answer your questions and advise you about your options.

The Limes Centre, Limes Avenue, Chigwell, IG7 5LP.

Housing and benefits

Leader calls on residents to Shop Local

Written on . Posted in Arts, Business, Council tax, Countrycare, Democracy, Health, Housing, Leader, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Olympics, Our activities, Our attractions, Our countryside, Out and about, Parking, Private housing, Sports, Sports centres and pools, Supporting business, Travel, Trees and landscapes, Your money

Hello,

When I became the new leader of Epping Forest District Council back in the summer, the country was poised for the Olympic Games.

The Olympics proved to be the most fantastic success. As a Country, we staged probably the best Olympic and Paralympic games ever. At a time when the economy is flat and families are struggling to make ends meet, we all showed the rest of the world what Great Britain can achieve.

I am very proud to say that Epping Forest District played its part in our national success. The Lee Valley White Water Centre outside Waltham Abbey was completed on time and budget, giving thousands of people their first taste of the Olympic rapids before any of the other new venues had opened.

But this was just the platform – we helped to provide a stage but it was the people, the volunteers, the spectators, and most of all, the athletes that made the Games such a success. And as we look ahead to 2013 that is how I see the job of Epping Forest District Council – to provide the stage and the conditions in which the residents of Epping Forest can perform to their maximum potential.

So how do we do that?

To begin with we must leave as much of your money in your own pocket as possible. We are a low tax council. It is three years since the last increase in the Epping Forest District element of the Council Tax. We have one of the lowest Council Taxes in Essex.

We are pro-business. A healthy business sector means jobs and services for local people. Pay and Display parking charges in our towns are among the lowest you can find. Many car parks are free at weekends in the run up to Christmas. Working with local businesses, we promote our town centres, visitor attractions and tourism for local residents and visitors alike.

We are pro the environment. There is terrific demand on local housing because people want to live here. We do all we can to defend the Green Belt and we are trying to provide homes to meet the needs not only of people today, but our children and grandchildren in the future.

Healthy living and an active social life go hand in hand with a good life at home and work. We provide leisure centres, support a Youth Council and keep our older residents fit and active. Much of our work is supported by volunteers. Whether you are clearing country paths and coppicing trees with Countrycare or leading a walk for older people through Epping Forest or the Lee Valley Regional Park, the work of the council is magnified and enhanced by the generosity and spirit of volunteers.

Everyone has a part to play and there is never a better time than Christmas to show your support for the district. I want everyone who lives and works in Epping Forest to join with me in making 2013 the year our district takes off.

Use your local high street

One Shops Local and Visit Epping Forest are two websites designed to support local business. Created by Epping Forest Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, the council and other members of our Local Strategic Partnership, these sites are the place to find all the information, deals and recommendations you need to support your local high street.

If you have a few hours to spare and want to make another kind of difference, why not contact Voluntary Action Epping Forest to find out what you could do.

So next time you are thinking about a day out, looking for a good tradesperson or writing your shopping list remember the answers are all online and available on your doorstep.

On behalf of all the councillors and staff at Epping Forest District Council may I wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Chris Whitbread
Leader – Epping Forest District Council

Council on 18 December 2012

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Business, Chairman, Commercial properties, Community, Council tax, Councillors, Countryside and wildlife, Democracy, Environmental health, Housing, Licensing, Local business, Local plan / planning our future, Meetings, Our countryside, Planning, Private housing, Regulations, Residents, Supporting business, Trees and landscapes, Young people, Your community, Your home, Your money

Local Plan, Housing, CCTV, Ash Dieback, The Box and more discussed at Council on 18 December 2012.

Local Plan

Progress on the new Local Plan and associated work was reported to the latest meeting of Epping Forest District Council on 18 December by Councillor Richard Bassett, Planning Portfolio Holder. In a written report, Councillor Bassett said that work on the Local Plan is continuing. All the issues and options consultation responses will be entered into the analysis system by the end of December.

Analysis of the data is ongoing for forthcoming workshops involving Town, Parish and District Councillors and MPs during the first 3 months of the new year. A further workshop will be held later in the year that will consider the implications of further evidence and a preferred option for the emerging Local Plan to be published in late summer or early autumn 2013 for consultation.

Councillor Bassett has also asked the Forward Planning team to compile a list of the “Brownfield” sites they have considered as part of the Local Plan process. It is hoped that this will help councillors identify any which were not identified in the Strategic Land Availability Assessment part of the process. He reminded councillors that brownfield sites which would accommodate less than 6 houses would not be part of the identification process as they are considered as windfall sites and applications for these normally appear through the normal planning process.

Councillor Bassett noted further work on population projections due to take place in the next few months following recent releases of Census 2011 data. He is also due to hold a follow-up meeting with Harlow District Council in January to discuss cooperation focusing on planning and economic development.

Housing

In other updates, Councillor David Stallan reported progress towards the council’s new house building programme. It is envisaged that the development of the first sites will commence in 2014 and be completed in the winter of 2014/15. He also reported on the use of government grants to support the Council’s Homelessness Prevention Service, Epping Forest Citizens Advice Bureau and 20 additional loans under the council’s successful Rental Loan Scheme.

CCTV

In his written reports, Councillor Gary Waller, Safer, Greener and Highways Portfolio Holder updated councillors on the reallocation of existing money and new money to enhance CCTV in Loughton High Road as well as a further £40,000 to expand and maintain other new CCTV systems across the district. Councillors agreed a further £10,000 towards the upgrade of Loughton cameras.

Following late-night disorder in Epping, Councillor Waller has also authorised more cameras with funding by club licensees. He also announced a combined operation by the council and Essex Police including more police patrols, use of drug dogs, checking taxi licensing and live CCTV monitoring.

Ash Dieback

Ash Dieback has now been reported in the Epping Forest district. Council staff are advising concerned members of the public and referring possible cases to the national helpline. Tree wardens are also being advised about the disease and are encouraging local surveys to supplement those being undertaken by the Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust. Councillor Waller reported that infection is unlikely to be found on council owned trees in the short term, because there have been no recent plantings of ash saplings. The council’s regular survey of its own stock will include a check for signs of the disease in future.

Councillor Waller’s report noted that although ash is an important tree in the district it is not the major tree of the local countryside or towns. It is a minor component of the district treescape compared to oak in the wider countryside and beech in Epping Forest. The loss even of a high percentage, would be significant but could be mitigated by an active planting programme of other species on council land and by larger landowners and farmers.

The Box – Epping

A late question by Councillor Ken Angold-Stephens informed District Councillors of an emerging funding concern at The Box – a facility for young people in Epping High Street. It would seem, funding by Essex County Council through to April is in doubt and the facility is in danger of closing without intervention. Councillor Chris Whitbread, Leader of Council thanked Councillor Angold-Stephens for bringing the matter to the council’s attention. He is to instruct District Council Officers to contact the organisers of The Box without delay and encourage an application for grant aid to support The Box until the end of the Financial Year.

Local Council Tax support scheme adopted

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Community, Consultation, Council tax, Councillors, Democracy, Housing, Meetings, Older people, Private housing, Residents, Your community, Your council, Your home, Your money

Epping Forest District Council’s Local Council Tax Support Scheme has been agreed and adopted by Full Council at its meeting on 18 December. From 1 April 2013 Council Tax Benefit will be replaced by the Local Council Tax Support Scheme (LCTS) as a consequence of the Welfare Reform Act.

From April 2013 people of working age who pay no Council Tax may have to pay some, and those who currently pay some may have to pay more. Key elements of the new scheme are:

  • The calculation of support based on 80% of the Council Tax bill, rather than 100% at present
  • Anyone of working age who lives in a higher Council Tax band, will have their support calculated as if their property was a Band D
  • Inclusion of child maintenance in the calculation (excluding the first £15 per week per family)
  • The capital limit (personal savings) will be reduced from the current level of £16,000 to £6,000
  • Second adult rebate will not be included in the scheme for people of working age
  • A minimum award of £0.50 per week. This is in line with the minimum award in housing benefit
  • The inclusion of an Exceptional Hardship Fund to help the most vulnerable customers affected by the changes

Pension age people are protected from any reduction to their benefit payments under the new scheme although they may need to pay more if Council Tax increases.

Residents who are currently in receipt of Council Tax Benefit will be contacted in the New Year with details of the impact of these changes. Residents are being advised to go online in advance of this communication to find out whether they will be affected by the introduction of LCTS at www.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/index.php/residents/council-tax

Councillor Syd Stavrou, Finance Portfolio Holder said: “Councils across Essex have worked together to implement schemes that limit the impact of the central government grant cuts on our most vulnerable residents. The district is losing approximately £1 million a year compared with the old scheme. Pensioners are protected and people in some of the other most vulnerable groups. We have had to make some difficult decisions about who gets help and how much but we feel that the proposals are as fair as possible to the majority of people within the resources available.”

Funding allocated to Councils for LCTS has been cut by 10% and is frozen at 2011 levels; this results in a drop of £1m for Epping Forest District.

 

Benefit cap changes

Written on . Posted in Benefits, Buckhurst Hill, Chigwell, Community, Council tax, Epping, Housing, Loughton, Ongar, Private housing, Residents, Waltham Abbey, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your home, Your money

From April 2013 there will be a ‘cap’ or maximum limit on the total amount of benefit that people of working age can receive. Households will have income capped to £500 per week for families and £350 for single people.

The Government will add up how much money you get from a range of benefits including housing benefit and if the total comes to more than the maximum amount allowed your housing benefit payments will be reduced to bring the total income in line with the applicable cap.

How will this affect me?

If your benefits are capped this will mean you may have to pay more towards your rent than you do currently. This is a really important change because if you get behind with your rent you may risk losing your home.
The cap will not apply if you, or your partner or any children you are responsible for, and who live with you, are entitled to working tax credit or receive any of the following

There will be a period where the cap will not be applied for 39 weeks for those who have been continuously in work for the previous 12 months.

The cap will apply to the combined income from: