THE Royal Borough has admitted it conducted an ‘unlawful’ consultation to increase council tax for vulnerable residents.

During the budget meeting in February, the ruling Conservatives approved plans to change its council tax reduction (CTR) scheme from 91.5 per cent to 80 per cent.

This means vulnerable residents or those on a low-income will have to pay more than double in council tax – from 8.5 per cent to a whopping 20 per cent.

Although a consultation was conducted in December 2019 to February 2020 where only 21 out of 2,621 of CTR customers responded to it.

In total, the online consultation received 141 responses where a majority were against the increases.

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During the meeting, the leader of the council, councillor Andrew Johnson (Conservative: Hurley and Walthams), said the consultation was ‘thorough and robust’ – but councillor Helen Price (The Borough First: Clewer and Dedworth East) warned him the council could face potential lawsuits due to the consultation ‘not adhering to the statutory obligations’.

She said not only was there a low response rate, community groups were not involved, the results of the consultation were not available to overview and scrutiny, and recipients only had four weeks to respond, setting aside Christmas and New Year’s Eve, where the ‘borough standard’ is six weeks.

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) were taken to the High Court in London by Alan Gass – a Windsor resident affected by the increase – who believed he was not ‘adequately and lawfully’ consulted on the CTR changes.

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Mr Gass said he was ‘shocked’ when he received a notification of 200 per cent rise in his council tax.

In April, RBWM admitted the consultation was unlawful where the High Court ruled a second ‘lawful’ consultation should be conducted where a new decision will be based on the new results and equality impact assessment.

The consent order also says RBWM must present the second results to councillors before a decision is remade on the CTR scheme.

A second consultation is still yet to be announced by RBWM.

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Cllr Price said: “I was most concerned about both the unfairness and unlawfulness of this situation – and raised it more than once at overview and scrutiny panel and also at the council meeting, warning that it could result in legal action.

“It is very unfortunate that the council has incurred not only more stress for our vulnerable residents but also additional costs through being liable for all legal fees at a time when this borough can little afford it.

“Surely a compassionate council, mindful of the extreme financial difficulties being faced by our poorest residents at this stressful time, would have enacted the consent order immediately on it being published? But six weeks later still nothing.”

Delighted by the outcome, Mr Gass said councillors who voted for the CTR scheme rise should ‘consider their resignation’.