Wales to help 'severely mentally impaired' get council tax discount after MSE campaign
The Welsh Government has become the first in Great Britain to launch a website and leaflet to help 'severely mentally impaired' residents access a council tax discount worth almost £400/year on average – but MSE founder Martin Lewis says others must follow suit.
The Welsh Government has worked alongside MoneySavingExpert.com for six months to create a new leaflet with standardised information on all council tax discounts – including the 'severely mentally impaired' (SMI) discount. It has also set up a dedicated council tax help website to make more people aware of the available discounts and help them to claim.
MoneySavingExpert has been calling on central and devolved governments to standardise the SMI application process and policy for backdated claims since we published our major report into the issue, The Disregarded Discount, a year ago.
Shockingly, our investigation then found that up to 100,000 people who are entitled to a 25% SMI council tax discount could be missing out.
See our How to claim the 'severely mentally impaired' council tax discount guide for full help on how to claim.
Martin: 'We should help society's most vulnerable'
MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis said: "What should happen is those diagnosed as 'severely mentally impaired' and their carers should be informed of and offered the 'SMI' discount.
"Yet disgracefully the majority of councils give out the wrong information. Some staff in our cold-calling exercise even told people the discount doesn't exist, meaning there are huge differences in take-up across the country. That simply isn't right. We should be looking to help some of society's most vulnerable, not hinder.
"Plaudits to the Welsh Government for listening to our call and taking on the cause of those with a 'severe mental impairment'. Proper communication and education of staff is a great start.
"The hope is that now we can point to Wales as an example, the rest of Great Britain will follow suit. We'll continue to make sure the changes made by the Welsh Government have actually worked for those trying to start a claim and suggest improvements if we come up with any."
What is the Welsh Government doing?
Previously, details of the SMI discount were available on individual local authority websites in Wales and were not always easy to find.
Over the past six months, the Welsh Government has worked with MoneySavingExpert to improve the info published about council tax discounts. It has:
- Launched a dedicated website. The website provides information on available discounts and contact details for your local authority's council tax department.
- Sent a standardised leaflet to all local councils. The leaflet offers the same info as the website, and it is hoped it will be used as an aid by council workers, as well as relevant organisations such as Age UK and Citizens Advice.
- Added flyers to residents' council tax reminders. Flyers were given to local authorities to add to council tax reminders earlier this year, directing residents to the website for more information.
- It has worked with Citizens Advice and Age UK. The Welsh Government liaised with these organisations to try and get its information out to a wider audience.
What is the SMI discount and who's eligible?
The discount gives people diagnosed as SMI a reduction or an exemption on their council tax, depending on their living situation.
If you are diagnosed as SMI and you live with another adult who pays council tax, your property will be eligible for a 25% discount. If you live on your own, you're entitled to a 100% reduction and won't have to pay a penny.
In order to qualify, you need to be diagnosed as SMI – that's having a permanent condition that affects your intelligence and social functioning, such as dementia (including Alzheimer's) or severe learning difficulties, but other conditions also apply.
You also need to be eligible for certain benefits, but you don't need to actually receive them, which many councils incorrectly tell applicants.
See our How to claim the 'severely mentally impaired' council tax discount guide for more information, including how to claim.
What does the Welsh Government say?
Mark Drakeford, cabinet secretary for finance, said: "Ensuring every household in Wales receives what they are entitled to in terms of council tax support is an important part of the Welsh Government's commitment to making council tax fairer.
"Our guide brings together all the relevant information and puts it in one place. I am grateful to MoneySavingExpert.com and local councils for helping us to develop this important and useful guide.
"We will continue to work with councils to encourage and ensure consistency in approaches to administering discounts and exemptions, not just those with a severe mental impairment, but for everyone who is eligible."
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