PMQs: Boris Johnson responds to council tax criticism
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Council Tax bills must usually be met by individuals who are 18 or over and own or rent their home. A full bill is based on at least two adults living together. This means spouses and partners who live together are deemed jointly responsible for making sure the bill is paid. Those who are behind on Council Tax payments are encouraged to reach out to their local council at the soonest possible availability. Individuals can choose to spread payments over 12 months instead of the usual 10 to reduce the amount on each bill. But they will need to ask their local council to set this up for them. Council Tax, though, is deemed as a priority debt. This means it should be near to the top, if not at the top of the list of people’s priorities on day-to-day payments. A failure to meet these bills could see the bailiffs knocking at a person’s door – a horrible scenario for many.
However, there may be instances where local authorities could reduce or totally write off a person’s Council Tax debt. And the tip is worth considering, particularly if one has no money to cover their bills at this particular point in time.
It can be achieved under a rule which is known as Section 13A. The Money Advice Hub states all local authorities must have this scheme in place, though which any person can make a request for a particular amount of their Council Tax to be either reduced or written off.
Section 13A can help in times of financial hardship, but it could also help those struggling due to other reasons. If a person sees their home damaged in a fire or a flood, for instance, they could get help under this local authority rule.
However, due to the fact each local authority oversees its own specific area, there may be variations between different points in the country. This has led some to see the system as somewhat of a postcode lottery in terms of the support it can provide.
Council Tax: Certain Britons could write off debts by using ‘best-kept secret’ (Image: Getty)
Sara Williams, owner of the blog Debt Camel, recently provided insight into the idea of Council Tax reduction through Section 13A. She looked into how the scheme is often used, but also how more Britons have the potential to make it work in their favour if they genuinely need this kind of support.
She wrote: “Councils in England and Wales can reduce or write off your Council Tax under Section 13A (1)(c) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. This has been called “the best-kept secret in council tax law“.
“Section 13A write-offs aren’t common because hardly anyone has heard of them. But in 2021 these discretionary write-offs may be more used because so many people have major financial problems because of the pandemic.”
Once a person works out how much they have in Council Tax debt, they should check the website of their local council, Ms Williams advises, to see if they have a page to make a Section 13A application. Forms, the expert added, should be filled out rather than writing a letter on the matter.
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Ultimately, it will be about proving one’s circumstances in the best way possible. For this reason, then, providing supporting evidence through bank statements, payslips and benefit letters could assist in standing up a case. Ms Williams advised getting a good Income and Expenditure statement to make a successful application.
If there is no form available, then individuals should email their application to their Council Tax department itself to ask for a reduction under Section 13A, providing their reasoning alongside any proof and the Income and Expenditure statement as well.
But ultimately, before pursuing a Section 13A application, Ms Williams advised individuals to look into as many other ways as possible to reduce their Council Tax and other bills first.
Help is at hand for those who are struggling with their Council Tax bills, and individuals can reach out to their local council in order to find out more. But one of the most important schemes for people to consider will be Council Tax Reduction, which is sometimes also called Council Tax Support.
Council Tax Mapped (Image: EXPRESS•Rentround)
The scheme replaced what was known as Council Tax Benefit in April 2013, and can be particularly useful to those who are struggling to meet their payments every month. It is not available in Northern Ireland, however, as here there is a different set of rules.
Individuals could be eligible for Council Tax Reduction if they are on a low income, or if they claim benefits. They could see their bill reduced by up to 100 percent in these circumstances. Britons will be able to apply if they own their home, rent, are unemployed or working, casting the net wide for eligible people.
What a person ultimately receives, however, is based on a number of factors. These include:
- Where they live – each council runs its own scheme
- Their circumstances (e.g. income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
- Their household income – this includes savings, pensions and partner’s income
- If their children live with them
- If other adults live with them
Local councils will ask Britons about their income and their circumstances to see whether they are eligible for a reduction. They will then go on to work out the new bill of the individual concerned, and tell them how much they will need to pay – if anything – in Council Tax.
What is happening where you live? Find out by adding your postcode or visit InYourArea
On the official Government website, Britons will be able to enter their postcode into the ‘Apply for Council Tax Reduction’ tool. They can then expect to be relocated to the page of their local council where specific advice and guidance will be issued regarding the rules for that particular area.
If someone is successful and they are awarded a Council Tax Reduction, then usually they will not get an actual payment from the local council. Instead, the council will take action to automatically reduce the amount of Council Tax a person actually has to pay each year.
Another form of Council Tax support is the Second Adult Rebate. This is reserved for those who may not have a partner, but who share their home with someone over the age of 18, who is on a low income and does not pay any rent. People will not be able to get a Second Adult Rebate at the same time as Council Tax Reduction, though, so it is important to pay attention.
The size of the rebate in this circumstances is usually dependent on the second adults’ weekly income before tax. If it is less than £215, the rebate is set at 15 percent, but drops to 7.5 percent if income is between £215 and £278.99. Finally, if weekly income before tax is £279 or more, there will be no rebate issued.