What is Council Tax?
Your local council charges Council Tax to pay for services they provide for you. It applies in England, Scotland and Wales.
Every local council places the properties in their area into 8 (9 in Wales) bands depending on how much they're worth. The lowest band (A) pays the least Council Tax and the highest (H in England and Scotland and I in Wales) pays the most.
The band that applies to your home will be written on your Council Tax bill. How much each band pays varies from council to council. Northern Ireland has a different system. There, you pay 'rates'. How much each household owes is calculated using the 'rateable capital valuation' of their property.
There are many different ways to reduce your Council Tax bill, depending on your personal circumstances. For example, you can get discounts depending on your situation. This includes if you have a certain number of people in the house.
There are also means-tested benefits that take into account your income and savings, such as Council Tax Support.
Help with Council Tax in different circumstances
Help when you can't afford it
There are 4 ways to reduce your Council Tax bill if you have low income and savings:
- Council Tax Support
- Second Adult Rebate
- Discretionary Payments
- Discretionary Relief.
Some people may qualify for several forms of discount at the same time, so it's possible to combine different ways of reducing your Council Tax bill. Your council should explain how to do this on its website.
Council Tax Support
In England, Scotland and Wales, if you receive 1 of the means-tested benefits below, you'll probably receive a substantial amount of help with your Council Tax bill:
- Income Support
- Income-based/new-style Jobseeker's Allowance
- Income-related/new-style Employment and Support Allowance
- high levels of Tax Credits.
As your income increases, the level of help you'll receive with your Council Tax bill decreases.
Each council in England and Wales has its own way of calculating how much help you'll get towards your bill. It's best to check with your local council or visit the advicelocal website.
However, in Scotland, there's 1 national system to calculate how much help you'll get. Please contact your local council for details.
Pensioners in England, Scotland and Wales can receive 100% help with their bill if they receive the Guarantee element of Pension Credit or have an income low enough to qualify for this benefit.
For all age groups and locations, the amount you get may be reduced if other adults live in your property, such as grown-up children. This is known as a 'non-dependent deduction'.
Second Adult Rebate
This is aimed at single people who can't claim the 25% Council Tax discount given to all people living alone because another adult (who is not their partner) lives at the same address. Not all councils offer this rebate and some restrict it to pensioners only. To qualify, the other adult must be on a low income and not liable for the Council Tax bill.
There are different levels of help available depending on the benefits the second person receives or how much income they get. You can't claim Second Adult Rebate at the same time as Council Tax Support.
You might be able to get a Discretionary Payment if you're finding it difficult to pay your Council Tax bill.
Discretionary Payments are means-tested (they take into account how much income and savings you have). You'll be asked for a lot of evidence to prove you can't afford your Council Tax bill.
Discretionary Payments are a short-term solution, and can cover up to a year.
Each council has complete discretion (they can decide) on who they offer this support to, and how to offer this support. Each council has its own way of deciding who is given a payment.
If you've been refused a Discretionary Payment and think the decision is wrong, you can always ask the council to look at their decision again.
The funding for Discretionary Payments comes from central government.
Discretionary Relief is one type of Discretionary Payment. The 1992 Local Government Finance Act granted local councils the power to locally finance and pay Local Relief for your Council Tax bill if paying the bill is causing you 'severe financial hardship'.
Each council has complete discretion in how they choose to award this relief, and who they decide to give it to. Most councils don't offer this help.
Help because of your situation
There are 3 ways to reduce your Council Tax bill that look at your personal situation, and not how much income or savings you have. They are:
- Status Discount (including severe mental impairment)
- Disability Reduction
- unoccupied and exempt accommodation.
Some people may qualify for several forms of situation-based discount at the same time, so it's possible to combine different ways of reducing your Council Tax bill. This can include a combination with means-tested benefits.
Your council should explain how to do this on its website.
Status Discount isn't means-tested (in other words, it's not affected by your income or savings).
The most common type of Status Discount is the 1-person discount of 25%, available when only 1 adult lives in the property.
Sometimes, other people living there might be ignored too and a 25% or 50% discount might be awarded.
Adults will be ignored if they:
- are living in a shelter, hospital or care home
- are in prison or detention
- are a full-time student
- are aged 18 or 19 and in full-time education
- are under 25 and in approved training (such as student nurses, youth trainees and some apprentices)
- are a carer for at least 35 hours a week for someone who lives with them, who is not their spouse, partner or child, and who receives a qualifying benefit (see below)
- have a severe mental impairment (see below).
Status Discount for carers
You'll receive a discount if you care for someone for 35 hours a week or more, the person you care for lives at your address, but isn't your spouse, partner or parent, and the person you care for receives one of the following benefits:
- the high or middle rate of the care component of Disability Living Allowance (only the high rate in Scotland)
- either rate of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment, or the enhanced rate of Adult Disability Payment (only in Scotland)
- Attendance Allowance (only the high rate in Scotland)
- Armed Forces Independence Payment, or the highest rate of Constant Attendance Allowance
- Status Discount for severe mental impairment.
Health conditions like dementia can cause a 'severe mental impairment'. But many conditions can lead to an impairment of cognitive or social functioning that can be described as a 'severe mental impairment'. Some people with Parkinson's may fit this description. Ask your GP if you think this could be the case.
You're eligible for a Status Discount if you have a certificate from a medical professional (such as your GP or consultant) which confirms that you have a permanent 'severe mental impairment'. In addition, you must also receive 1 of the following benefits:
- the high or middle rate of the care component of Disability Living Allowance
- either rate of the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment or Adult Disability Payment (Scotland)
- Employment and Support Allowance
- Attendance Allowance
- Armed Forces Independence Payment
- Constant Attendance Allowance
- Severe Disablement Allowance
- Incapacity Benefit
- Income Support with a disability premium
- Universal Credit with either of the limited capability elements
- Working Tax Credits with either of the disabled worker elements, or
- you're over State Pension age and you would get 1 of the above benefits, but because of your age, you don't qualify.
This is not a complete list. Please check with your council for an entire list of exempt people.
If you live alone and you're 'severely mentally impaired', you're completely exempt from paying Council Tax – see the section 'Unoccupied and exempt accommodation' below.
It's possible for more than 1 person in a property to be ignored.
For example, if a sister provides 35 hours or more care per week for her brother who has a severe mental impairment and he qualifies for the enhanced rate of Personal Independence Payment, both the sister and brother will be ignored. And if they're the only 2 people in the house, they will get a 50% discount on their Council Tax bill.
This scheme in England, Scotland and Wales is not means-tested so it doesn't take into account your income or savings. You don't have to receive any benefits to get it either.
If you qualify, the scheme reduces your Council Tax bill by 1 banding, for example from Band C to Band B, if your home has been adapted or changed in some way for someone with a substantial and permanent disability.
To qualify, your home should have at least 1 of the following:
- an additional bathroom or kitchen (which has been added for a disabled person to use)
- a room (other than a toilet, bathroom or kitchen) which is used mainly by a disabled person for treatment or therapy
- enough space in the property for a wheelchair to be used indoors (the property may have been adapted to cater for wheelchair use).
Each council has its own application form for the Disability Reduction Scheme. Councils always assess eligibility through a home visit, so they can see the changes that have been made.
The reduction can be backdated to the date you made the alteration to your home.
Disabled Person's Allowance (Northern Ireland)
Disabled Person's Allowance is Northern Ireland's equivalent of the Disability Reduction Scheme.
It gives you a 25% discount in rates for any household where the property has been adapted or has had additional facilities added to suit a disabled person's needs.
Unoccupied and exempt accommodation
Some properties and some people in certain circumstances are completely exempt from Council Tax liability (meaning you don't have to pay).
You're exempt from paying if you or your property meet 1 of the following criteria:
- Everyone living in the property is under the age of 18.
- You're in prison.
- You're in a hospital or care home.
- You're living away from the property elsewhere to care for someone.
- You're a student studying elsewhere and the property is unoccupied.
- Everyone in the property is a full-time student.
- The only person living in the property has died and probate has yet to be granted (after probate has been granted, the property is exempt for the next 6 months too).
- Occupation of the property is forbidden by law (for example, because of planning restrictions or it's derelict).
- The property has been repossessed.
- The person living in the property who is liable to pay Council Tax has become bankrupt and the property is part of the bankruptcy.
- All the resident(s) of the property is/are severely mentally impaired.
This is not a complete listing, please check with your council for the entire list of exempt properties and people.
If everyone living in the property is severely mentally impaired, they must also each receive one of the qualifying benefits listed under the heading 'Status Discount for severe mental impairment', above.
Secondly, a qualified medical practitioner (usually your doctor) must confirm to the council that in their medical opinion, all resident(s) of the property have an impairment of their cognitive and social functioning that appears to be permanent, and they are, as a result, 'severely mentally impaired'.
How can I appeal a decision?
In the first instance, you should appeal a Council Tax decision to your local council.
If it isn't resolved, in England and Wales it then goes to the Valuation Tribunal. In Scotland it goes to the Valuation Appeals Committee.
You can appeal against decisions on:
- Council Tax exemptions
- Council Tax liability to pay
- where you are resident
- whether a Status Discount applies
- whether a Disability Reduction applies
- Council Tax Support awards
- Discretionary Payment award decisions
- Council Tax banding.
There is no time limit for lodging an appeal, but you should put your appeal in writing. If an appeal to your local authority is refused, you can appeal to the relevant body:
- The Valuation Tribunal for England within 2 months of receiving the decision, or within 4 months of your original appeal if your local council hasn't responded.
- The Valuation Tribunal for Wales within 2 months of receiving the decision, or within 4 months of your original appeal if your local council hasn't responded.
- The Valuation Appeal Committee in Scotland within 4 months of your original appeal.
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