COUNCIL TAX (CT)

Can I be excused from paying or pay less?

National exemptions and discounts for CT are set by government and all Councils must apply them. Lots of situations are covered.

  • Living alone – 25% discount.

  • If you or anyone living with you is "severely mentally impaired" (SMI) – you are exempt. Councils have an SMI form to apply for this.

  • Wheelchair users living in adapted accommodation – discount of one band lower as your home needs to be larger. You need to show that you use your chair indoors; the hallway or other room is adapted, not just the toilet or bathroom; this adapted room or the wheelchair must be essential or of major importance to your well-being due to the nature and extent of your disability. See disability-related help: www.disabilityrightsuk.org/help-council-tax

See full list of exemptions here: www.gov.uk/council-tax/council-tax-exemptions.

Councils also set their own local concessions – these vary. Many councils exempt people on disability and carer benefits, but some don’t publicise it. Check with your council’s benefits section if you should be completely exempt. Pensioners previously on Council Tax Benefit are exempted by the government.

I’m not exempt from CT, can I get help with paying?

Yes, people on low income can claim Council Tax Support or Reduction which replaced Council Tax Benefit. See: www.gov.uk/council-tax-reduction

Council Tax Support (CTS) does not cover CT totally, like Council Tax Benefit used to. Your CT bill shows how much CTS you get. You can apply in writing for a 100% reduction so you don't pay anything. You need to show you are caused hardship. The council’s benefits section handles this, not the tax section, but you need to notify both. Copy your letter to your ward councillors and Member of Parliament (MP) – they can support you by writing to the council.

Staff may be unhelpful or say they have made the maximum possible discount already, so be persistent and get back-up. In Camden, people previously on Council Tax Benefit are charged 8.5% of CT – CTS covers the 91.5%. They call this ‘maximum discount’, which may be unlawful as councils can always consider a 100% reduction. They can change earlier decisions and cancel your debt if they made a mistake or didn’t have all your information (were ‘ignorant of a material fact’): www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2001/1002/regulation/4/made

Ask the council for a form called Council Tax Discretionary Reduction Application (also called Exceptional Hardship Relief Scheme), or Google the form with your council’s name. If they won’t send it or you can’t find it online, write saying why you should not have to pay (example letter below). Send a cover letter with the form summarising your case and any issues not covered by the form.

Example letter to ask for 100% help with Council Tax

To [Your Council, Council Tax Section]

[Your Council Tax Account Number]

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am replying to your letter of ... [put date] that you require me to pay £... in Council Tax. In April 2013, Council Tax Benefit was abolished and replaced by local Council Tax Support Schemes. I was previously getting Council Tax Benefit but under the new scheme I am expected to pay a contribution which I cannot afford.

This letter is a request for the council to exercise its discretion under Section 13A(1)(C) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 to reduce my Council Tax liability to nil as I currently have no disposable income (as you can see below). [‘Disposable income’ means the spare money left after you have paid for your living costs and disability expenses. See: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/17/enacted#p00055]

[Add your details below...]

  • Income [include any benefits you receive]

  • Savings [if any – don’t count money put aside for things you need]

  • Living expenses [such as food, health costs, carers, heating and electricity, fares, clothes...]

  • Additional expenses or debts [for example: I am also expected to pay £… bedroom tax from the above benefits.]

  • Hardship / distress [for example: I can’t afford food/heating; impact on my physical and mental health; impact on welfare of my children, family or household members.]

I have NO disposable income.

[Or, if you do have some disposable income, detail your expenses and explain you need to put money aside for these.

If you get sickness or disability benefits, your disability-related expenses may include: heating, wear and tear on clothing, special diet and vitamins, equipment or non-NHS health treatment, transport costs not covered by mobility benefit, running a car...

If you receive Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment (PIP), these benefits are not means-tested and should NOT be counted as disposable income. It is important to remind the Council of this.]

I would like you to reconsider my case. I know you have the discretion to waive charges in my case and/or write off debts.

Yours sincerely,

[Your name, address]

Cc [put names of your MP and ward councillors, send copy to them]

Enclosed [include copies of any relevant evidence that supports your application]

.............................................................................................................................................

Keep a copy of the letter and enclosures for yourself. Send by signed for delivery OR, if you deliver it by hand, make sure you get a receipt for your letter.

What if I get a court summons for non-payment of Council Tax?

To stop the summons and challenge the debt, contact your council immediately.
And ask your MP, local councillors, local advice centre or local campaigning group to contact the council on your behalf. MPs and ward councillors have a responsibility to take up problems of people in their constituency. If you do this before the court date, usually court costs won’t be added to your bill.

Tell the council in writing about your financial hardship and the worry the summons is causing you (see example letter above).

If the court has already ordered you to pay, refer the council to Rev Paul Nicolson’s Council Tax legal challenge about court costs as court costs will have been added to your bill. See the Taxpayers Against Poverty website.

And check you are getting the CT exemptions and discounts you are entitled to (see above).

Council Tax debt payments

If the court has ordered you to pay, councils usually set up automatic weekly deductions from your benefits (taken off by the DWP) or your wages ("attachment of earnings order"). The DWP will deduct CT and other debts all at once, whether this leaves you with enough money to live on or not! Write to the council, not the DWP, as it is the council’s demand. Say that you can’t afford to pay and describe the hardship and stress you face. Send a copy to your MP and press them to write to the council.

To challenge deductions from your wages, appeal to the court, see CAB AdviceGuide – Creditor takes money from your wages.

Make sure that you (or someone on your behalf) writes to the council as soon as possible explaining why you are vulnerable – mental health or physical disability, sickness, communication or language difficulties, a recent marital or partner break-up, young children, bereavement, unemployment, or similar reason.

If the Council knows you are vulnerable, national guidelines say they should not proceed with trying to recover any debts using either the bailiffs or the court or charge you any extra costs. Get help from a debt advice service (see Debt section).

If the Council sends bailiffs to seize some of your belongings, you do not have to let them in, sign anything or answer their letters.

New regulations on debt recovery give more protection for vulnerable people and to stop bailiffs taking your essential household items, such as cooker or microwave. See CAB Advice Guide – Vulnerable people – treatment by bailiffs.

Check you are getting all your benefit entitlements and transport concessions:

www.gov.uk/benefits-calculators

www.turn2us.org.uk/benefits_search.aspx

www.entitledto.co.uk/benefits-calculator/

Transport for All (London)