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Help with council tax

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Disability Rights UK Factsheet F43

1. What is council tax?

Council tax is a charge made by your local authority to cover services which they provide for you. It applies to England, Scotland and Wales. The amount of council tax that you must pay varies from authority to authority but all assessments are based on the property band that applies to your home.

Each dwelling in a local authority is placed in a valuation band, from A (the lowest) to H (the highest)(or A to I in Wales). The band that applies to your dwelling will be written on your council tax bill.

There is no council tax in Northern Ireland, which still has a rating system. You can find out more about this from the Land and Property Services website at www.finance-ni.gov.uk/land-property-services-lps

Some properties are exempt from the council tax; see section 2 below.

There are three types of help you can get with your council tax bill:

  • the Council Tax Discount scheme (see section 3);
  • the Disability Reduction scheme (see section 4); and
  • the Council Tax Reduction schemes (see section 5).

You can get help through all three schemes at the same time if you satisfy the conditions for each of them.

2. Exemptions from council tax

Your property may be exempt from council tax. This would be the case, for instance, if it is empty because you are now permanently resident in a care home. For a full list of the exemptions, see the Disability Rights Handbook or contact your local authority.

3. The Council Tax Discount scheme

You can get a discount of 25% off your bill if you are the only person living in your home or if all the other residents are ‘disregarded’ for council tax purposes. You can get a 50% discount off your bill if you and all the other residents are disregarded. Those who are disregarded include:

  • people who are considered to be ‘severely mentally impaired’;
  • certain types of carer;
  • people in hospital, a care home, or certain kinds of hostel;
  • anyone whose ‘sole or main residence’ is elsewhere; and
  • young people, students, student nurses, youth trainees, apprentices and certain other groups.

For a full list, see the Disability Rights Handbook or contact your local council. Your council may automatically grant a discount, but you can also apply for one.

Second adult rebate

A discount (known as the ‘second adult rebate’) is also available if the gross income of the other resident is low enough. If the other person is on income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or income support, the discount is 25%; if their income is under £193 a week, the discount is 15% and if their income is between £193 and £249, the discount is 7½%.

Second homes

In Scotland, local authorities have the power to reduce the discount offered on furnished second homes from 50% to just 10%. In England and Wales, authorities have discretion to reduce the discount below 50% or to offer no discount at all.

Properties that have been unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for more than two years may not qualify for a discount and the council tax may be increased by up to 50%.

4. The Disability Reduction scheme

You can get a reduction on your bill if you or someone in your home is ‘substantially and permanently disabled’ and one of the following applies. You (or they):

  • have a room (other than a bathroom, kitchen or toilet) which is used to meet your needs e.g. for the purposes of dialysis, treatment or for the storage of equipment;
  • have a second bathroom or kitchen used to meet your needs; or
  • have enough space in your home to use a wheelchair indoors.

If any of these apply, the bill for your dwelling is reduced to the next lowest band. If you are already in a Band A property, you will have your bill reduced by one sixth.

Disability reductions are available in all types of dwellings, including care homes and hostels.

In Scotland, the council water charge can also be reduced under this scheme.

Contact your local authority to apply for a disability reduction. If you should have been given a disability reduction in the past, but were not, it should be backdated. Backdating may be limited to six years.

5. The Council Tax Reduction schemes

There are different arrangements in England, Wales and Scotland.

England and Wales

Your local authority is required to have a Council Tax Reduction scheme in place. Each authority in England and Wales has a different scheme. Rightsnet have provided an online resource showing all the support schemes in operation throughout England, available at http://counciltaxhelp.net/. If you live in Wales, you should contact your local authority.

There is an online calculator to work out the local support in your area at www.counciltaxsupport.com. Contact your local authority to apply for a council tax reduction.

Scotland

The Scottish Government has set up a single system that replicates the old council tax benefit system. For more information see www.gov.scot/Topics/Government/local-government/17999/counciltax/CTR

Discretionary payments

You may be able to get temporary discretionary payments if your local authority thinks you need additional help with your council tax. Contact your local authority for more information.

6. Students and council tax

If you are a full time student, you do not normally have to pay council tax. If you have a non-student partner, although you are not liable to pay council tax, your partner usually is. He or she may be able to get help from one of the three schemes detailed above.

If you live in a property which is wholly occupied by students (including students temporarily absent from their course), the property is exempt from council tax. You also do not have to pay council tax if you live in a student hall of residence.

If you share a property with non-students, the non-students will be liable to pay council tax but you will not. For those non-students who do have to pay, you are disregarded for council tax discount purposes (see section 3 above).

In Scotland, you are also considered to be a student if you have completed a Higher National Certificate or a Higher National Diploma and have an offer of a place on the second or third year respectively of a first degree course. You do not have to be on this course, but it must start within six months of your completed course.

For further information on the above and the support that is available for disabled students, please contact the Disabled Students Helpline: Tel: 0800 328 5050 or email: students@disabilityrightsuk.org.

7. Appeals

You can appeal against decisions on:

  • council tax exemptions;
  • liability to pay;
  • where you are resident;
  • whether a council tax discount applies;
  • whether a disability reduction applies;
  • council tax reduction awards; and
  • discretionary payment award decisions.

You should first go to the local authority. There is no time limit for lodging the appeal, but you should put your appeal in writing. If it is refused, you can appeal to the:

  • Valuation Tribunal for England (www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk/) within two months of receiving the decision, or within four months of your original appeal if your local authority has not responded.
  • Valuation Tribunal for Wales (www.valuation-tribunals-wales.org.uk/) within two months of receiving the decision, or within four months of your original appeal if your local authority has not responded.
  • Valuation Appeal Committee in Scotland (www.saa.gov.uk/) within four months of your original appeal.

8. Where can I get more help or information?

This factsheet is a basic overview of the help you can get with your council tax. You can find out more detailed information in our Disability Rights Handbook. This and all our other publications are available from our shop at https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/shop. You can also place orders by contacting Disability Rights UK.

You can get help and information at your local advice centre, such as a Citizens Advice Bureau. You can get more information about where to get personal advice from our Factsheet F15 - Getting advice. All our factsheets are free to download on our website at disabilityrightsuk.org.

For online advice on legal challenges and council tax go to www.gardencourtchambers.co.uk

Martin Inch and Ian Greaves
8 June 2017

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