Council tax – how to find out if you’ve been paying too much

Date published: 12 February 2020

Council tax bills are set to rise across the Rochdale borough this year as the council again strives to balance the books.

The higher rates will come in from April, once the local authority has set its budget for the next 12 months.

But could some residents be paying more than they need to?

A number of discounts and exemptions are available, but many go unclaimed as people are unaware of them.

So before council tax demands for the coming 12 months land on people’s doorsteps, here is a guide to who can get money off – and who may not need to pay it at all.

Single person discount

People who live on their own are usually entitled to a 25% discount.

A full council tax bill is based on at least two adults living in a home, who are jointly responsible for payment.

Some can have a quarter knocked off their bill if they:

  • Live on their own or
  • No-one else in their home is classed as an adult

Those who do not count as adults, for council tax purposes, include children under 18, people on some apprenticeship schemes, 18 and 19-year-olds in full-time education and full-time college and university students.

Reductions are also available for carers, those who are severely mentally impaired and those in prison or detention centres.

Bills can also be reduced if an adult or child with a ‘substantial disability’ is living at a property.

To qualify for this, homes must have certain features which are important for the wellbeing of the disabled person living there.

These include an extra room used mainly by the disabled person (for the storage of dialysis equipment, for example) an extra kitchen or bathroom, or additional space to allow a wheelchair to be used indoors.

Further reductions exist for foreign diplomats, foreign service personnel and specified members of international organisations.

Exemptions from council tax

Occupied properties can be exempt from council tax under certain circumstances.

This includes when all the residents are students, severely mentally impaired or under 18 years of age.

Care leavers are also exempt from paying council tax until they turn 25 in all of Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs.

Exemptions also apply to people who are permanently living in a hospital or residential care home as well as those in hostels, prisons and detention centres.

Properties annexed to a family home and occupied by elderly or disabled relatives (often known as ‘granny flats’) also fall under the same category.

Empty homes

Properties which are uninhabitable due to major repairs and alterations being undertaken may be exempt from council tax for a limited amount of time.

However, homes that are left empty attract a premium, which could rise to 200% over time in the case of those that are also unfurnished.

It’s part of a strategy to bring more properties back into use, helping councils to meet housing supply targets and improve the appearance of some areas, including Rochdale.

But there are exemptions in exceptional cases, such as if a property is waiting to be occupied by a religious minister, is owned by a charity or is the responsibility of a bankrupt’s trustee.

Low income households

Council tax reduction schemes can help people on low incomes pay their bills.

The exact rules vary between councils but those eligible include pensioners, sick or unemployed people and single parents.

People in work may qualify for assistance if their income falls below a certain level.

How much of a reduction is available usually depends on circumstances and capital/savings, but the reduction could be as much as 100%.

If you think you might qualify for extra help, you need to fill in a Discretionary Council Tax Support claim form, which asks about the money you have coming in and what you pay out.

Second adult rebates

Pensioners may be able to apply for a rebate of up to 25% if a second adult living in their property is on a low income.

Full details on the discounts, exemptions and rebates offered are available from the local authority’s council tax team:

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporting Service

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