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STRUGGLING households can get help paying their council tax bills.
It comes as families could see rates go up by 5% from April, adding over £100 to bills.
We explain how to get help paying your council tax billCredit: PA:Press Association
Councils were given permission to raise council taxes in the spending review, with the extra cash set to pay for rising police and social care costs.
According to the Local Government Chronicle, 53% of councils are looking to increase council tax by the maximum 5%.
It comes at a time when families are already dealing with the devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on their household income.
In May last year, more than two million homes were feared to have fallen behind on their council tax bills due to the pandemic.
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Your council tax is considered a priority bill, as not paying it can result in court action or even imprisonment.
Local authorities also have the power to send bailiffs to your home – although bailiff visits are currently banned due to Covid.
Below we round up a number ways to get help paying your bill if you’re struggling.
1. £150 discount due to Covid
Local authorities currently aren’t offering payment breaks for council tax bills.
Instead, some households in England have seen bills cut by £150 a year as part of a £500million hardship fund from the government.
The fund, which was first announced in March last year, is available to working-age people who get council tax support.
This is a benefit to help people who are on a low income or claiming certain benefits – we explain all you need to know below.
The cash was distributed to councils at the beginning of this financial year, with councils managing the allocations during the course of the year.
If you’re eligible for the 2020/2021 tax year, you should have received a new council tax bill last spring.
Or if you have a bill of less than £150, you likely won’t pay council tax at all.
If you still haven’t received a revised bill, it’s worth contacting your council to ask whether you’re eligible.
A spokesperson for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Sun it’s providing councils with £670million of extra funding to continue to support those on low incomes in 2021/22.
This is set to help councils maintain their support schemes, which we’ve listed below.
Councils also have the option to use this funding to offer additional discounts to their council tax payers.
In other words, it’s worth checking with your council directly what help you may be able to get.
2. Apply for Council Tax Support
You may be eligible for Council Tax Support (sometimes called a Council Tax Reduction) if you’re on a low income or on certain benefits.
You don’t need to be the property owner to apply for Council Tax Support, nor does it matter if you’re working or unemployed.
The amount you could see your bill reduced by depends on your personal circumstances – but you could end up seeing council tax slashed by 100%.
This will depend on:
- Where you live
- Your circumstances (eg income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
- Your household income – this includes savings, pensions and your partner’s income
- If your children live with you
- If other adults live with you
You may also be able to get your council tax bill backdated, but again, this depends on your personal circumstances and where you live.
As each council offers different support, you’ll need to contact your local authority for more information.
The Council Tax Reduction scheme is not available for residents in Northern Ireland.
Households in Northern Ireland should check out this scheme instead.
3. Other discounts and exemptions
There are a number of discounts and exemptions that you may be entitled to, if you’re struggling to pay your council tax.
For example, if you live on your own, or with someone who isn’t classed as an adult, you’ll qualify for 25% off your total annual bill.
You’ll also usually get a 50% discount if no-one living in your home, including you, counts as an adult.
Additionally, you won’t have to pay at all if everyone in your household is a full-time student.
Who doesn’t count as an adult?
- Children under 18
- Full-time students, most apprentices and trainees aged under 25
- Student nurses
- Foreign language assistants registered with the British Council
- People with a severe mental impairment, such as learning difficulties or autism
- Live-in carers who look after someone who isn’t their partner, spouse, or child under 18
Contact your local council to check what support you can claim.
4. Challenge your council tax
Another way to reduce your bills is to challenge your council tax band – but only if you think you’re wrongly in a higher band.
It’s worth noting that challenging your council tax is not a sure-fire way to reduce your bills.
You’ll also need to do your research first as it could result in you, and your neighbours, paying more if you’re bumped up to a higher council tax band.
The first step is to check what council tax band your neighbours are on, based on houses that are similar in size and value.
This information is available online and is free to check, so you don’t need to ask your neighbours in person.
If you find you’re on a higher council tax band compared to your neighbours, you may be able to successful make a challenge.
But before you do, another crucial check is to see how much your property was worth in 1991, as this is when council tax was launched by the government.
MoneySavingExpert has a free calculator tool to help you do this.
It could be worth doing as a pensioner recently won back £3,500 in council tax overpayments using a simple online form.
5. Pause payments from May
Struggling households will be able to pause council tax payments and other bills for 60 days under a new scheme launching in may.
First announced in June 2019, the breathing space scheme will protect hard-up Brits from bailiffs and prosecution for two months.
The scheme will apply to council tax arrears and other outstanding debt, including tax, benefit overpayments as well as credit cards and loans.
During this time, households will receive professional debt advice to find a long-term solution to their financial difficulties.
6. Get free debt advice
As well as being a priority bill, missing one council tax payment could mean you become liable for your entire annual bill in one go.
This means it’s really important to seek advice as soon as possible, if you know you’re unable to pay your bill.
There are plenty of organisations where you can seek debt advice for free.
Council tax bills are set to hit £2,000 in more than 100 areas – how much is yours going up by?
Millions of households will be hit with seven other bill hikes in April too, we explain how to avoid them.
Plus, we explain how to get help paying your energy bills if you are struggling.