Thousands of carers could be missing out on council tax discounts

06/12/2017, 15:42
Posted in: General

New research by Money Saving Expert shows that thousands of families could be missing out on council tax discounts

Reacting to the new research, Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK said,

“Looking after ill, disabled or older loved ones is one of the most natural things we can do, yet this can pose serious financial difficulties due to increased costs. With as many as 4 in 10 (39%) carers “struggling to make ends meet financially” and many in debt, this also takes a significant toll on carers’ health and well-being with increased stress, depression and strain on relationships.  We advise hundreds of carers every year who miss out on council tax discounts because they are unaware of them.  For those carers who do go on to receive the discount, the difference is noticeable.

With council budgets under so much pressure, SMI council tax discounts offer an opportunity for local authorities to provide more support to thousands of carers by improving their incomes and ensuring they are aware of the discount. We also know that this would help to improve their own mental health and well-being.  We would urge every council to look at improving their advice and information to carers on council tax discounts.”

The research showed that take-up by families could vary as much as 77 times between the lowest and highest in authorities and that information about the council tax discount was often hard to find. 

Eddy Graham, Head of Advice and Information at Carers UK said,

“the rules are not always that easy to understand, but we need to tell carers that a discount might be available.  It’s vitally important that staff are well trained and knowledgeable.   We are delighted to be working with Money Saving Expert to raise awareness and to ensure that carers get the information and advice that they need.”

Money Saving Expert’s report, the Disregarded Discount, shows up to 100,000 people entitled to a substantial council tax discount are missing out.  They conclude that this is due to inappropriate information being given about the discount by local councils. MSE is calling on all councils in England, Scotland and Wales to urgently review their processes and asking central Government to clarify and standardise the application process(1).   This is something that Carers UK would also welcome having campaigned on this issue in the past.

Council tax rules(2) state that, like students, those diagnosed as ‘Severely Mentally Impaired’ – this includes conditions such as dementia, including Alzheimer’s, but many others apply – and who are eligible for certain benefits(3), are disregarded for council tax purposes. This means if they live with one other person, usually their carer, then the household is entitled to a 25% council tax discount. Those living alone are entitled to a 100% discount, so they don’t pay council tax at all. It is worth an average £400/yr(4) and those who haven’t claimed should be able to get the discount backdated.

Carers UK’s information for carers on council tax discounts can be found here.

(1)    In its report, calls for:

  • Central and devolved Governments to conduct an urgent review of local authority procedures regarding the council tax SMI discount.
  • A standardised application procedure to be introduced across all councils resulting in a clear and simple process for people to claim the SMI discount and rebates.
  • Frontline council staff to be adequately trained with a full working knowledge of the discount and how to claim it.
  • A clear policy for backdated claims and rebates to be implemented across all councils.

(2)    By law, someone who has been medically certified as having a permanent condition that affects their intelligence and social functioning (eg, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, but many other conditions may apply) is 'disregarded for council tax purposes' in England, Scotland and Wales. It means you can claim:

  • 25% discount - if you live with someone with a severe mental impairment and no other adults, or only adults who are also disregarded for council tax purposes.
  • 100% discount - if you have a severe mental impairment and live alone.

(3)   To claim, you must be both medically certified as being severely mentally impaired, and eligible for (but not necessarily in receipt of) at least one of a list of benefits, which includes attendance allowance, incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance. 

(4)    The average band D council tax in England for 2017/18 will be £1,591, so 25% is £397.70.