MSE News

'I got a £15,000 council tax refund for my mum's dementia and had future bills axed' – here's how to do the same if you're in a similar position

Family members of a 98-year-old – who was refunded £15,000 in council tax overpayments and had future bills axed due to her having vascular dementia – have urged others in a similar position to check if they can do the same.  

Graham (who asked not to give his second name) encouraged his wife to apply for what's known as the  'severely mentally impaired' (SMI) council tax discount on behalf of her mother after reading about it on If you're eligible, you can be disregarded for council tax purposes in England, Scotland and Wales. We've been campaigning to raise awareness of this discount for years.

Below we explain in brief who's eligible for this discount and how to apply for it. You can also read our How to claim the 'severely mentally impaired' council tax discount guide for full info. If you're not eligible for SMI you may still be able to get 25% to 100% off your bills for other reasons – see our Council tax discounts guide for a full breakdown. 

'Don't be afraid to ask – just do it'

This August, roughly 10 weeks after applying, Graham and his wife were told by Stockport Council that Vera would no longer be liable to pay council tax. In addition, Vera was awarded a £15,000 council tax refund backdated to 2012 – when she was officially diagnosed with vascular dementia – one of the biggest SMI refunds we've seen.

The family, who are from Greater Manchester, are now encouraging others who might be eligible for the SMI discount to apply. Graham said: "Go for it. Don't be afraid to ask the relevant authorities for information, explanation and help." 

Describing the difference the extra money will now make, Graham added: "It's a huge relief – especially with the increases in energy costs. We are now able to get in an extra carer visit a day for Vera and keep money in the bank for gas and electric bills. Having dementia means she has no idea what time of day it is – there is no bedtime routine, so the heating is effectively on 24/7." campaigns lead, Katie Watts, said: "This council tax discount is rightly meant to help some of the most vulnerable in our society and this is one of the biggest backdated reclaims we've seen. Being refunded £15,000 is astonishing, and just goes to show how long this discount can go unclaimed for.

"We've campaigned for years to improve the uptake of this often under-claimed discount, which could see households shave anything from 25% off their council tax bill to wiping it altogether – though it’s a postcode lottery as to how far your council will backdate claims, or even whether it will do so at all. 

“If anyone thinks they might be due this vital help, or knows someone else who might, I urge them to check eligibility and apply. We’ve heard from scores of people who, like Graham, have been able to use the extra funds to support themselves or their loved ones with care, home adaptations, meals and more. With a difficult winter ahead, it could provide some much-needed respite with energy bills too."

You may be able to apply for the discount if you have dementia, severe learning difficulties or a similar permanent health condition

By law, someone who has been medically certified (usually using an official form) as having a permanent condition that affects their intelligence and social functioning – such as dementia (including Alzheimer's), severe learning difficulties, or being a stroke sufferer (other conditions may also apply) – can be disregarded for council tax purposes in England, Scotland and Wales. 

This disregard is on the basis of that person having a 'severe mental impairment' (SMI) – though  the name itself is a horrid one. 

Where you've been diagnosed by a medical professional as having an SMI and you are eligible for one of a number of qualifying benefits, you should be able to apply for an SMI council tax discount.

If you live in Northern Ireland it's not possible to apply for an SMI discount as the country uses a completely different system to council tax. Instead, you might be able to apply for a similar discount, known as the disabled person's allowance.

You could get up to 100% off your council tax bill – and a backdated payment

Those eligible for the SMI discount can claim:

  • A 100% discount. If they have a severe mental impairment and live alone.

  • A 50% discount. If they have a severe mental impairment and live with other people who are also disregarded for council tax purposes.

  • A 25% discount. If they have a severe mental impairment and live with one other adult who isn't disregarded for council tax purposes. (There is no discount if the person with a severe mental impairment lives with more than one adult not disregarded for council tax purposes.)

If successful, the SMI discount can wipe £100s off a council tax bill each year, or even reduce it to zero where the claimant lives alone – and often results in backdated refunds worth £1,000s on top. However, there is no universal rule when it comes to backdating, so if you can get a backdated payment – and how big – will depend on your local authority.

Where your council initially rejects your application for an SMI discount, it is normally possible to appeal. Full details on this and exactly how the discount works – such as what evidence you'll need and how to apply – can be found in our Severe mental impairment discount guide.

MSE has been raising awareness of the SMI discount since 2016 

MSE has been raising awareness of the SMI council tax discount since 2016. In 2017, we published a report bringing together our research on the issue with a number of recommendations to improve awareness and uptake of the discount. 

Since the report's publication, the Welsh Government and all 22 Welsh local authorities have made every change called for – though we're still pushing for changes across the rest of Great Britain. For more information, see our MSE News story. You can also visit our Campaigns hub for our current campaigns. 

The largest backdated SMI council tax refund we had previously seen was around £12,000. 

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