Council Tax Support - some questions and answers

What is Council Tax?

Most domestic dwellings, whether they are rented or owned, are subject to Council Tax. There is one bill per dwelling, whether it is a house, bungalow, flat, maisonette, mobile home or houseboat.

The Council Tax Band for your property is set by the Valuation Office Agency, which looks at the value of the property on 1 April 1991. You can see what Band you are in by looking at your Council Tax bill.

We collect Council Tax for Surrey County Council, Surrey Police Authority and Spelthorne Borough Council to pay for the services provided such as social services, policing the borough and refuse collection etc.

What is Council Tax Support?

Council Tax Support is a local scheme that helps people with low income to pay their Council Tax.

Awards of Council Tax Support are based on the fact that residents may be working part time or in a low paid job, or be retired and living on a small pension. It also includes people living on state benefits because they do not have a job or are unable to work because of health problems, disabilities or because they have responsibilities caring for family members.

Anyone who is liable to pay Council Tax may apply for help. However Council Tax Benefit ended on 31 March 2013 and has been replaced with a Local Council Tax Support Scheme.

What has changed?

The Government's new welfare reforms have created radical changes to a number of benefits and the way they are paid. On 1 April 2013, Council Tax Benefit was replaced by a local support scheme to help people on a low income with their Council Tax.

The Government has given councils less money to pay for their new schemes. It is in the form of an upfront allocation, with a cut from the current expenditure, and this will not be increased even if the number of people claiming or the Council Tax charge goes up.

The new scheme for Spelthorne Borough Council will be known as Council Tax Support. It is largely based upon the existing Council Tax Benefit and includes some inbuilt protections for people with different needs. The main elements of the new scheme are:

  1. Working age claimants have had the current benefit entitlement reduced by 8.5%.
  2. 'Backdating' of support has been reduced from 6 to 3 months - in cases where a customer does not claim support at the right time.

Will other discounts and exemptions be affected?

The 25% single person's discount and the exemption for people who are severely mentally impaired and live on their own will not change. Under separate proposals the Council has applied changes to the exemptions and discounts for second homes and empty properties.

How can I be expected to pay more?

Spelthorne Council recognises that reductions in support has affected some residents on low incomes. It has sought to affect as few as possible whilst balancing the needs of households on low income against placing further burdens on Council Tax payers. We listened to the consultation responses and sought to minimise reductions where we could, when approving the Local Council Tax Support Scheme.

In most cases, Council Tax is paid over 10 months of the year, however if you would prefer to pay over 12 months (to lessen the amount paid each month), a direct debit instruction form can be completed requesting 12 monthly payments.

The Council has specialist Recovery Officers who specifically deal with Council Tax debts for those experiencing difficulties. You can contact these officers directly to discuss your circumstances further.

The Citizens Advice Bureaux also offer debt advice and can help people examine their income and outgoings and prioritise their debts.

The main changes within the new scheme

Reduction in current award

Under the Local Council Tax Support scheme, awards will be reduced by 25% for all working age claimants and 10% for people with disabilities.

Backdating

The Council had to make tough decisions that balanced the government funding cut and the expectations of support from recipients and the general taxpayer.

The Council listened to the consultation responses and sought to minimise reductions where it felt it could, for example, by keeping a backdating period rather than abolishing backdating completely. Therefore claims for Council Tax Support will continue to be considered for backdating, but this has been reduced from six months to a maximum of three months.

How can people pay the Council Tax?

The Council offers a number of payment options.

Can people pay by instalments?

Yes. Council Tax is normally payable in 10 monthly instalments from April through to January. From April 2013, people can ask to pay over 12 months.

Reduction in current award

Under the Council Tax Support scheme, awards will be reduced by 8.5% for all working age claimants except those with a disability who will receive 100% protection.

Backdating

The Council had to make tough decisions that balanced the government funding cut and the expectations of support from recipients and the general taxpayer.

The Council listened to the consultation responses and sought to minimise reductions where it felt it could. As a result, it decided to keep a backdating period rather than abolish it completely. Claims for Council Tax Support will continue to be considered for backdating, but this will reduce from six months to a maximum of three months.

What will happen to people who can't afford to pay?

The Council is obliged to recover the Council Tax due in an efficient and effective manner. There are a number of recovery methods available.