Council’s care charges raised at meeting

The issue of the inclusion by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar of croft properties in the assessment of care charge liabilities returned to the council chamber last week.

By Peter Urpeth - Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 5:21 pm
The  SNP group councillors were vociferous in their questioning of the convenor.
The SNP group councillors were vociferous in their questioning of the convenor.

The meeting of the full council, saw the SNP group of councillors asked a co-ordinated series of questions as to the authority’s policy on the matter. 

During questions to the Comhairle’s Convenor, SNP group members asked seven different questions on a variety of technical and legal matters relating to crofting and tenancy law and regulation and care charges, with the convenor, Cllr Norman A MacDonald replying to five of the questions: “There is no Comhairle policy.”

At the start of the session, the convenor had replied to a question by Stornoway South councillor, Rae MacKenzie, as to the authority’s current policy on the matter saying that at its meeting on May 6, 2020, a QC’s opinion “confirmed that the Comhairle had no discretion to adopt a policy of excluding croft property from financial assessment for care charges”, and that on that basis, the authority’s Chief Executive had lifted the moratorium on the process, which had been put in place at the meeting on March 3, 2020, and added that the Scottish Government “had not given discretion to local authorities to set their own policy on that issue”. 

When asked by Harris and South Lochs councillor, John Mitchell, how many “permanent improvements” had been affected by the Comhairle per year “since commencement of the current policy”, and the amount of money “ingathered” by the Comhairle per year “since the commencement of this current policy?”

The convenor again said that the authority did not have a policy, but added: “Permanent improvements to crofts (i.e. houses) have always been taken into account [in] financial assessments”, and as of March 31, 2020, “there were 18 residents assessed as having croft assets with a total debt against those properties of £337k”. 

SNP Group Leader, Cllr Gordon Murray (Stornoway North) then asked if the convenor could advise on “the number of cases currently operational concerning the Comhairle recovering monies from assignation of tenancies, selling off permanent improvements belonging to third parties, and the cases where the Comhairle seeks to be appointed executor of legacies in cases of intestate estate of deceased crofters with a view to being beneficiary, and, the number of cases where the Comhairle is the care or financial Guardian appointed by the court?”

The Convenor replied: “There are 16 deceased residents assessed as having croft assets with a total debt against those properties of £939k.

“It is a matter for the executor to determine how to pay the debt.”

The convenor concluded: “The Comhairle has never forced the sale of a croft house to settle a debt.  The Comhairle has not applied to be appointed executor in any such cases.  Care and financial guardianship ceases on death.”

The meeting of the full council took place on September 30,but due to technical issues a recording of the meeting was not made available until Tuesday, October 6.