Tens of thousands of people who are entitled to a 'severe mental impairment' council tax discount could be missing out on up to £400 a year, an MSE investigation reveals today. Here's how to check if you're due the discount – and how to claim it.
By law, someone who has been medically certified as having a permanent condition that affects their intelligence and social functioning (eg, Alzheimer's or severe learning difficulties, but many other conditions may apply) is 'disregarded for council tax purposes' in England, Scotland and Wales. It means you can claim:
- A 25% discount – if you live with someone with a severe mental impairment and no other adults, or only adults who have also been disregarded for council tax purposes.
- A 100% discount – if you have a severe mental impairment and live alone.
We began raising awareness of this issue more than a year ago and have seen many successes, such as Paul's. He said: "Thanks – with your guide, I just helped my parents claim back £2,400 council tax as dad has Parkinson's."
Yet many people have struggled to claim, like Philip, who said: "My wife started receiving benefits for Parkinson's in 2001. My council originally told me that we didn't qualify as we had savings. However, it eventually admitted it had given us wrong information and we were given a 25% discount."
Who is eligible for the severe mental impairment discount?
Both of the following must apply for someone to qualify for a severe mental impairment (SMI) council tax discount:
- They've been medically certified as being severely mentally impaired. For example, this may be the case if they have dementia, Parkinson's, severe learning difficulties or have had a stroke. It will depend on each individual’s case though and simply having been diagnosed doesn’t automatically mean they qualify - a doctor must also certify they are severely mentally impaired.
- They're eligible for (but NOT necessarily actually receiving) at least one of the following benefits:
- Incapacity benefit
- Attendance allowance
- Severe disablement allowance
- Disability living allowance (higher or middle-rate care component)
- Increase in disablement pension (due to constant attendance being needed)
- Unemployability supplement or allowance
- Constant attendance allowance
- Income support (which includes a disability premium)
- Personal independence payment (standard or enhanced daily living component)
- Armed forces independence payment
In England and Wales you can also be eligible for:
- Disability working allowance (based on getting income support including disability premium)
- Universal credit (including an element for limited capability for work or limited capability for work and work-related activity)
In Scotland you can also be eligible for:
- Tax credits (including disability element)
- Employment and support allowance
- Universal credit
Just to be clear, some councils wrongly tell people they need to be receiving these benefits. That's not correct – the law simply says you need to be eligible for them.
How to claim the discount
The process for making a claim varies by area, so you'll need to check your local authority's procedure. But here are the basics (for England, Scotland and Wales – for Northern Ireland see below):
- First, you'll need a doctor's diagnosis. A registered medical practitioner must have diagnosed a condition causing severe mental impairment. In some cases you'll need to attach a written diagnosis to your claim – in others you just give your doctor's details and they'll be contacted for confirmation.
- Then get a claim form from your council. You'll need to contact your local authority for a claim form to register for a council tax discount (find contact details via the Government's 'Apply for Council Tax Reduction' service).
- Fill the form in and send it off to your council. You may be asked to attach some supporting evidence, such as the doctor's diagnosis or evidence of eligibility for relevant benefits.
Procedures vary by council, so if you want to know how long it will take for the discount to be applied, it's best to check with yours.
How to get a rebate if you've overpaid
Here it gets a bit trickier – not all councils allow you to apply for a backdated discount, though we think they should. If your council does allow you to make a retrospective claim, here are the need-to-knows:
- You'll need to write to your local authority explaining the circumstances. You'll need to do this separately, even if you're claiming for a reduction in future as well, though you can attach your rebate letter to the claim form.
- You don't need to explain why you didn't apply for a reduction earlier. But you will need to prove the criteria for a discount applied at the relevant time in the past. We've heard from MoneySavers who have moved home over the years who have managed to reclaim overpayments from multiple councils.
It's worth noting that different councils seem to have varying interpretations of the reclaim process, but the most common way of calculating when the reclaim should be backdated to seems to be based on when the person with the SMI first started receiving a qualifying benefit.
- If you lived with someone with an SMI who's since died, you may still be able to claim. You may be able to get a rebate on payments for the period when the person with the impairment lived with you. The process is the same, so you'll still need proof of the person's condition, such as a doctor's letter.
There's a rates system there instead of council tax, meaning every property is valued individually. The only roughly similar discount is the disabled person's allowance, which gives a 25% discount on rates for homes where a disabled person lives and the property has been adapted to suit their needs. See full info on the NIdirect website.