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Council tax support

This content applies to England

The support available for people on a low income to pay their council tax bill.

Applying council tax support

Council tax support may be given through:[1]

  • the authority's council tax reduction scheme, whereby support is in the form of a reduction to the householder's council tax bill in accordance with the scheme
  • a reduction (or further reduction) in the bill – potentially reducing liability to nil – at the local authority's discretion.[2] An authority cannot fetter its discretion and must consider every application for discretionary assistance on its merits.

Devising a scheme

Each local authority devises and administers its own council tax reduction scheme for people in financial need.[3] The Government has published guidance for local authorities on administrative matters relating to localised council tax reduction schemes.

Regulations set out what must be included in a council tax reduction scheme, for example how income and capital of the applicant is treated in calculating eligibility for a reduction. Each year regulations are issued to uprate relevant allowances and deductions, and to provide how certain payments are treated in the calculation of the amount of an applicant’s council tax reduction.[4]

Council tax reduction schemes replaced the national council tax benefit scheme in April 2013.

Pensioners

Schemes are required to make provision in respect of 'pensioners'. A pensioner is defined as a person who is of the age to qualify for pension credit and s/he or her/his partner is not in receipt of income-based jobseeker's allowance, income support, income-related employment and support allowance, or universal credit.[5]

The Gov.uk state pension calculator can be used to calculate the age a person will qualify for pension credit.

Vulnerable groups

The Government has stated that 'vulnerable groups' should be protected as far as possible.

There is no definition of vulnerable groups in the legislation, and it is for a local authority to decide which groups, if any, will be protected from the effect of any cuts in the level of support under its own scheme. However, council tax support schemes must comply with the public sector equality duty.[6] For further information on this duty, see Public sector equality duty.

The High Court found that a council scheme which required all working-age claimants to pay at least 15 per cent of their council tax liability, regardless of disability or age, did not amount to unlawful discrimination under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Court found that the scheme's impact on disabled people was expressly taken into account through the various income disregards made and the premiums awarded when determining the applicable amount that applied in calculating a claimant's entitlement to a council tax reduction. Further, the council provided discretionary additional support in any case of exceptional hardship which a claimant could apply for.[7]

Persons from abroad

The following are not entitled to council tax support:[8]

  • persons subject to immigration control (except specified exceptions)
  • persons not subject to immigration control but not habitually resident in the Common Travel Area,
  • persons not subject to immigration control whose only right to reside in the UK is an initial right or that of a jobseeker.

However, many migrants in the UK may be entitled – the categories of persons not excluded from council tax support are broadly the same as the categories of persons eligible for housing assistance under Parts 6 and 7 of the Housing Act 1996. For more information see the sections Eligibility: EEA/EU nationals and British nationals and Eligibility for housing assistance (for people subject to immigration control).

A British citizen who has lived abroad has a right to reside in the UK, but if s/he fails the habitual residence test s/he will not be eligible for council tax support.

Eligibility options adopted under local schemes

Local authorities receive less central government funding for council tax support than they received for the administration of council tax benefit.

In practice most local authorities require working-age claimants to pay more of their council tax than before, or restrict the categories of people entitled to council tax support, or both.

Examples of options adopted by local authorities include:

  • requiring all working-age claimants to pay a minimum amount of council tax, regardless of income
  • reducing the number of benefits that are disregarded for the purposes of calculating a claimant's income
  • removing the second adult rebate (the rebate a council tax payer is entitled to if s/he shares her/his home with an adult on a low income or in receipt of specified benefits)
  • lowering the cap for capital disregard, so that claimants with savings at a lower level will not be entitled to any council tax support
  • increasing the income taper (under council tax benefit the taper was set at 20 per cent)
  • limiting the amount of benefit for claimants in higher banded properties. Council tax varies according to the value of the property, as such the lowest value properties (in band A) have lower council tax than the highest (in band H)
  • introducing a minimum award of council tax support; so for example if the minimum award is fixed at £6.50, any claimant whose entitlement is calculated at less than £6.50 will receive nothing
  • changing non-dependant deductions
  • reducing the period for which a backdated award for a working-age claimant can be made.

Further discretionary reduction

A person who cannot meet their council tax liability after the council tax reduction has been applied can apply for an additional discretionary reduction. The local authority has the power to reduce a claimant's council tax liability to nil.[9]

A discretionary housing payment (DHP) cannot be awarded to help a claimant meet any shortfall between the council tax support s/he receives and her/his council tax liability.[10]

Application process and decisions

A claimant for council tax support, including for a discretionary reduction (under section 13A(1)(c) Local Government Finance Act 1992), should apply to her/his local authority under the rules of the scheme adopted by the authority. Minimum procedural requirements have been set to apply nationally.[11]

Following receipt of an application for council tax support, the local authority must notify its decision to the claimant in writing within 14 days, or as soon as 'reasonably practicable'. The letter must inform the claimant of the requirement to report any relevant changes of circumstances, the implications if s/he does not do so, and how an appeal against the decision may be made.[12]

Appeals

In addition to the appeal procedure set out in each localised scheme,[13] there is a right to appeal to the Valuation Tribunal Service on any decision – including a decision on the exercise of an authority's discretion – that there is a liability for council tax, or the amount of council tax payable, if:[14]

  • the authority does not allow the applicant's appeal
  • the applicant is not satisfied with the steps the authority is taking to resolve her/his grievance, or
  • two months have elapsed since the applicant submitted her/his appeal and the authority has not issued its decision.

An appeal to the Valuation Tribunal must be made in writing.[15] Time limits vary according to the reason for making the appeal and the authority's response.[16]

An appeal against the decision of the Valuation Tribunal can be made to the:[17]

  • Upper Tribunal
  • High Court (on a point of law only).

Further information

The Valuation Tribunal Service has published:

Challenge to scheme itself

An appeal against a local authority's council tax reduction scheme itself may only be made by judicial review.[18]

A scheme that set a minimum residence requirement of two years for assistance under the council tax reduction scheme was held to be unlawful because the imposition of a non-financial criteria fell outside the lawful parameters of a council tax reduction scheme.[19]

[1] s.13A Local Government Finance Act 1992 as amended by s.10 Local Government Finance Act 2012.

[2] s.13A(1)(c) Local Government Finance Act 1992 as amended by s.10 Local Government Finance Act 2012.

[3] para 4 Sch 1A Local Government Finance Act 1992 as amended by s.10 Local Government Finance Act 2012.

[4] Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements) (England) Regulations 2012 SI 2012/2885, as amended (with effect from 14 January 2019) by Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 SI 2018/1346.

[5] regs 3 and 11 Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements) (England) Regulations 2012 SI 2012/2885, as amended.

[6] s.149 Equality Act 2010; para 2.12 Localising support for council tax in England: Government's response to the outcome of consultation, DCLG, December 2011; R (on the application of (1) Buckley (2) Congreaves (3) Mills (4) Mills) v Sheffield CC [2013] EWHC 512 (Admin); R (on the application of Winder & Others) v Sandwell MBC [2014] EWHC 2617 (Admin).

[7] R (on the application of Logan) v Havering LBC [2015] EWHC 3193 (Admin).

[8] ss.12 and 13 Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements) (England) Regulations 2012 SI 2012/2885 as amended.

[9] s.13A(1)(c) and 13A(6) Local Government Finance Act 1992 as amended by s.10 Local Government Finance Act 2012.

[10] para 1.13 Discretionary Housing Payments Guidance Manual, DWP, April 2013.

[11] Sch.7 and 8, Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements) (England) Regulations 2012 SI 2012/2885, as amended.

[12] para 12, sch.8 Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements)(England) Regulations 2012 SI 2012/2885 as amended; para 117 Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Default Scheme) (England) Regulations 2012 SI 2012/2886.

[13] para 8, sch 7 Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Prescribed Requirements) (England) Regulations 2012 SI 2012/2885, as amended.

[14] s.16 Local Government Finance Act 1992.

[15] s.16(4)(a) Local Government Finance Act 1992.

[16] Valuation Tribunal for England Council Tax and Rating Appeals Procedure Regulations 2009 SI 2009/2269, as amended.

[17] regs 42 and 43 Valuation Tribunal for England Council Tax and Rating Appeals Procedure Regulations 2009 SI 2009/2269]; see, for example, Turner v South Cambridgeshire DC [2016] EWHC 1017 (Admin) and Francois v Waltham Forest LBC [2017] EWHC 2252 (Admin).

[18] s.66(2)(ba) Local Government Finance Act 1992.

[19] R (on the application of Winder & Others) v Sandwell MBC [2014] EWHC 2617 (Admin).

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