Wales champions ‘Severely Mentally Impaired’ £400/year council tax discount (& £1,000s in rebates)…
…while 100,000s of people in the rest of GB left in the dark
Today, the Welsh Government announces significant changes so that a long-standing council tax reduction in Great Britain is no longer hidden for people diagnosed as ‘Severely Mentally Impaired’ (SMI).
The announcement, responding to a campaign by the UK’s biggest consumer website MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE), will ensure some with conditions such as dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, severe learning difficulties or those who’ve had a stroke are told that they may be due £1,000s in rebates.
The Welsh Government and all 22 local authorities in Wales made every change called for by MSE in its 2017 report The Disregarded Discount. The investigation found that in England, Scotland and Wales (1), tens of thousands of people with qualifying conditions are missing out on the SMI discount, which is likely due to a lack of awareness, inappropriate information and irregular policies from local councils.
Two-thirds of councils gave incorrect information to MSE’s mystery shoppers – that’s 69 of the 100 tested – while frontline staff at five councils were unaware of the discount. A Freedom of Information request of 265 councils (2) also found that there was a huge difference in take-up – with some councils having more than 50 times the number of people claiming the discount than others.
Following MSE’s recommendations, the following will happen across Wales:
- A standardised, easy application form to be adopted by all 22 Welsh councils. Throughout Great Britain, each council’s application procedure for the SMI discount differs. Wales has introduced a standardised application procedure and form for all of its councils, designed with MSE’s input. A universal version of this is available on Gov.wales – so it can be distributed by charities, advice centres and pharmacies to people who may be able to claim.
- Backdating to be allowed by EVERY council and in a standardised way. ALL claimants who are eligible for the discount will have it automatically backdated, with a rebate for any council tax overpaid, back to the point of an SMI diagnosis. Before now, it’s been a postcode lottery (and still is elsewhere in Britain), as some councils allow backdating while others don’t.
- Common, consistent and clear literature. There is now a dedicated website with details of the discount and how to claim, plus a leaflet of the information (which also helps council call handlers).
MSE is hopeful that Scotland will soon follow suit, but in England, where change is reliant on the UK Government, there’s still work to be done.
How does the ‘Severely Mentally Impaired’ discount work?
A person who is ‘Severely Mentally Impaired’ (SMI) is defined as living with a severe impairment of intellectual and social functioning, which appears to be permanent. If a vulnerable person is certified as having an SMI by a doctor and is eligible for one of a number of benefits – such as attendance allowance, employment and support allowance, incapacity benefit or universal credit – they are exempt for council tax purposes (in a similar way to students and under 18s).
This means if they live with one other person, usually their carer, and no other adults (or only adults who are also disregarded for council tax purposes), then the household is entitled to at least a 25% discount – worth an average £400/yr in Wales (3). Those living alone are entitled to a 100% discount, so they don’t pay council tax at all.
MSE has been campaigning to raise awareness of this discount for over two years – more information on how to claim in MSE’s guide – and has had great success. Here is just one example (more are available):
Christine, whose mother has Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, claimed on her behalf from South Tyneside Council. She said: “I had no idea people with mental impairments do not have to pay council tax until I saw a link to MSE’s article on Facebook. I was interested because I saw it could be claimed retrospectively. I thought it would be a lot of hassle, but once I got hold of all the evidence I received a refund of £6,399 within weeks. I am grateful to MSE, as I would never have known that this refund was available and wonder how many other people are not aware of this either.”
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “Many of the most vulnerable within our society, those who are living with a ‘severe mental impairment’, have been eligible for a council tax discount for years, but sadly, across Britain they have rarely been about told it – meaning they’ve missed out on money that could’ve transformed their quality of life.
“Most councils haven’t helped spread the word, and disgracefully have often hindered people claiming by giving out misinformation. Some staff in our cold-calling exercise even said the discount doesn’t exist, meaning there are huge differences in take-up across the country. That simply isn’t right.
“I’m delighted that our research and campaign has been so warmly welcomed in Wales, and congratulate the Welsh Government and Welsh local councils for their swift and comprehensive action once it was alerted to the issue.
“Wales will be a beacon of light on this, bringing justice and real, significant change that will help some of society’s most needy. We've had encouraging noises from Scotland and we’re hopeful it'll soon follow Wales. Yet there's a lot of work to be done to bring England out of the dark too. It should be easy to do, the law is identical to Wales, but we need the Secretary of State James Brokenshire, and the Local Government Association to give it the attention it deserves.”
Welsh Finance Minister Rebecca Evans AM said: “I am delighted that the Welsh Government is leading the way with this new approach, helping some of Wales’ most vulnerable people when they need it most.
“This is a great example of collaborative working and supports the Welsh Government’s commitment to making council tax fairer.
“We will continue to work closely with local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association to encourage consistency in approaches to administering discounts and exemptions for everyone who is eligible.”
On Wednesday 10 April, Finance Minister Rebecca Evans AM will meet MoneySavingExpert.com founder Martin Lewis at the Senedd to launch these changes. The event will begin at 12.30pm and both Martin and the minister will be available for interview shortly after. You are invited to send a reporter/photographer/camera.
Notes to editors
(1) The discount is not available in Northern Ireland, where there is a rates system instead of council tax.
(2) FOI data obtained by MoneySavingExpert.com from 265 councils out of 380 across England, Scotland and Wales.
(3) The average band D council tax in Wales for 2019/20 is £1,618.92, so 25% is £404.73.