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Council tax benefit - are you eligible? Part 1

Posted 25 September 2015 by Christine Walsh

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Learn why council tax is a priority bill and whether you’re entitled to help through council tax reduction.

It seems that more and more people are struggling with council tax arrears – are you one of the? According to the BBC, debt advisors are seeing a significant increase in the number of people who can’t afford to pay their council tax.  Some are struggling a little bit, but others are a long way off being able to meet their monthly payments, with £102 being the average amount households were short by.

If you are part of a household that’s struggling with to pay, it’s really important that you understand what help is available and how to go about getting it, and that’s where we can help.

In this two part series, we'll take you though how to check to see if you're claiming everything you are entitled to, and what to do if your're not. 

Why the rise?

The rise in council tax debt is down to a mixture of different factors, which have hit families at the around the same time leading to a problem. For instance, the government changed ‘council tax benefit’ to ‘council tax support’ and, in some cases, this has reduced the amount of money that households are entitled to. If you’re already on a tight budget then you can see how these changes might mean the difference between being able to afford it and struggling with it.

And, if you combine this with the continued rise in living costs and low wage growth, it’s not hard to see how a workable financial situation quickly becomes one that doesn’t work at all.  If this has happened to you, or it’s happening now, you need to do something about it, and the first thing you can do is find out if you’re eligible for any benefits.

It is a priority

Whatever you do, it’s really important that you don’t ignore the demands that you receive through the post and hope that it will go away, because it won’t.

Your council tax payment is one of your priority bills, like your rent/mortgage, other tax bills, utility bills and debts that are secured against your home. For instance, if you don’t pay your council tax the council could issue you with a court summons, take the money directly from your wages or benefits or even send bailiffs round.

What help is out there?

The changes that the government made in 2013 mean that councils are now responsible for helping people on low incomes with their council tax payments However, the new rules also included a reduction in the funding that the councils had available to help those in need, leaving some people worse off than they were before the rule change.

The good news is that there is still some help available in the form of a council tax reduction, which is also known as council tax support.

Who is eligible for council tax support?

To be eligible you must:

·         live in the property that you’re applying  for

·         be responsible for paying the council tax

·       check that the property isn’t already exempt from council tax (for a full list of properties that are automatically exempt or eligible for  reductions , have a look here)

·         not be subject to immigration control

·         be habitually resident – this means you need to be able to show that you have the right to live at the property and that you  spend most of your time there

 

·         not have too much capital – councils can refuse to give council tax reductions to  people if they think they have too much capital, capital is things such as savings or other properties

That's all for part 1. You can read part two tomorrow, so why not check back then? 

 

by Christine Walsh

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.