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23 September 2020
Tens of thousands of 'severely mentally impaired' people who are entitled to a council tax discount could be missing out on about £400 a year. We've been raising awareness of this since 2016, and the following year published a major report which found councils could be overcharging up to 100,000 people. This guide shows how to check if you're due the discount – and how to claim it.
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By law, to qualify, someone must be medically certified as being 'severely mentally impaired' – defined as having "a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning (however caused) which appears to be permanent".
This is a medical diagnosis in itself, but the underlying cause could be a condition such as dementia (including Alzheimer's), severe learning difficulties, or something else. It's important to note that having an underlying condition does not automatically mean a person is 'severely mentally impaired' (SMI).
If someone is diagnosed as SMI, they can be 'disregarded for council tax purposes' in England, Scotland and Wales – in a similar way that students are, for example. Who is eligible is explained in full below.
If you or someone you live with is diagnosed as SMI, this means you can claim:
No discount applies if you are diagnosed as SMI but you live with two or more adults who are eligible to pay council tax. As there are two or more full council-tax paying adults, they are not eligible for the single person's council tax discount.
To qualify for the reduction, not only does the person have to be medically certified as being SMI, but they also must be eligible for – but not necessarily actually receiving – at least one of a number of benefits (see full list), such as disability living allowance.
Warning: 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.
We began raising awareness of SMI in 2016 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, such as 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."
Not all people diagnosed with Parkinson's will necessarily qualify for this discount. See the next section in this guide for full info on who's eligible.
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Both of the following must apply for someone who's severely mentally impaired to qualify for the council tax discount:
In England and Wales you can also be eligible for:
In Scotland you can also be eligible for:
Remember, 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.
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):
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.
Let us know how you've got on. Whether you've successfully claimed, or have tried to but had problems, tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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:
We've been banging the drum about the SMI discount for several years now, and in 2017 published our report The Disregarded Discount, outlining several changes that councils should make to the process for getting discounts and rebates.
As of April 2019, in a huge win for our campaign, the Welsh Government and all 22 Welsh local authorities have agreed to make every change called for in the report. This means the application form for the discount will be standardised across the country, and backdating is to be allowed by EVERY council in a standardised way. Bravo Wales!
If you're in Wales and want to claim a discount, you need to:
The form will ask for a date of diagnosis, so if you're owed a backdated rebate, your application form will cover this.
Because there is the rates system in Northern Ireland, rather than council tax, 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.
If your council has rejected your application for the SMI discount, but you believe its decision was wrong and that you are indeed eligible, then there is an appeals process.
Make sure you take note of any relevant timescales before you appeal, because if you leave it too late then you will probably have to start the entire SMI application process again.
The appeals process differs depending on where you live:
If the council rejects your SMI application but you disagree with its decision, you should first appeal directly to the council itself.
On appealing, your council then has two months to issue its final response. Should it continue to disagree, you can then take your case to the Valuation Tribunal Service (this must be done within two months of the council's final response).
If the council doesn't respond to your initial appeal (ie, you don't get a reply) within two months, you can automatically take your case to the Valuation Tribunal Service. However, this must be done within four months of sending your initial appeal.
A council has two months to respond to your application for SMI. If it rejects your application, it should write to you outlining its reasons and enclose a form with which you can appeal.
To appeal, you need to fill in this form and send it to your regional Valuation Tribunal for Wales (this must be done within two months of the council's decision). If your council doesn't include an appeal form, you can request one either by calling 01633 266367 or by emailing email@example.com. Writing a letter directly to your regional Valuation Tribunal for Wales should also TECHNICALLY be enough to start the appeals process, but it's recommended you use the form.
In the event that the council does not respond to your initial SMI application (ie, you don't get a reply) within two months, you can take your case automatically to the Valuation Tribunal for Wales. However, this must be done within four months of you having applied for SMI.
If the council rejects your SMI application but you disagree with its decision, you should appeal directly to the council itself.
Your council will then refer your appeal to the local Valuation Appeal Committee if:
When the council refers your case, your local Valuation Appeal Committee will get in touch directly with you.
If you are unhappy with the way your council handled your SMI discount application you can complain about its behaviour. By 'handled', we aren't referring to the council's decision about whether you are eligible for the discount or not, but about matters such as there being delays in the process, incorrect or misleading advice, or unacceptable staff attitude.
You should always complain using your council's own complaints service first, which you can find on your council's website.
If you're not happy with the council's response, there are different ombudsmen you can escalate your complaint to, depending on where you live:
If you're not satisfied with the council's response to your complaint, or have not received a reply within 12 weeks, you can escalate your case to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
This can be done by filling in an online form or by calling 0300 061 0614. You should ensure that any complaint to the ombudsman is made within a year of your initial complaint to the council.
If you're not satisfied with the council's response to your complaint, or have not received a reply within 12 weeks, you can refer your case to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, by filling in this online form or by sending a printable version in the post.
The address to send the printable version to is:
Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, 1 Ffordd yr Hen Gae, Pencoed, CF35 5LJ.
If you're not satisfied with the council's response and have exhausted its internal complaints process (which is a two-stage process), you can refer your complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman via an online form.
Make sure your council has confirmed in writing that you have completed its complaints process, otherwise you will not be able to escalate your case to the ombudsman.
No – having this or any other medical condition does not automatically make you eligible for the discount. To be eligible for the discount, you need a specific SMI diagnosis from your doctor.
The law says that a person is regarded as SMI, or ‘severely mentally impaired’, if they have ‘a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning (however caused) which appears to be permanent’.
You can be diagnosed as SMI as a result of a range of conditions – which could include things like dementia, Schizophrenia, having had a stroke, or having had an accident which permanently affects your intelligence and social functioning.
Many conditions can underlie being SMI, but no condition means a person is definitely also SMI. Being SMI is a doctor’s diagnosis in its own right.
No, but the number of council tax paying adults you live with does affect the level of reduction you can receive.
If you are diagnosed as SMI by a doctor, entitled to at least one of the applicable benefits for the discount, and living alone or only with others who are SMI, you are exempt from paying council tax – you won’t have to pay anything at all.
Alternatively, if you are diagnosed as SMI by a doctor, entitled to at least one of the applicable benefits for the discount, but live with one adult who is eligible to pay council tax, your household will receive a 25% reduction. This is because as you are exempt from paying council tax, the other inhabitant will qualify for the single person’s council tax discount.
However, even if you have been diagnosed as SMI by a doctor and are entitled to at least one of the applicable benefits for the discount, but you live with two or more adults who are eligible to pay council tax, there will be no reduction. As there are two or more full council tax paying adults, they are not eligible for the single person’s council tax discount.
No, your GP is not allowed to charge for a doctor’s certificate to support an SMI claim – British Medical Association regulations say they have to give these certificates free of charge.
While there isn't a similar rule for specialist consultants (eg, psychiatrists), as a general principle they don’t ask for a fee.
Not necessarily. While some councils do backdate, they are not legally obliged to – each council can decide their own policy.
All the above approaches are legally permitted, as there is nothing in law which says a council has to have a particular backdating policy.
However, following MSE campaigning, Wales has standardised its backdating process and all 22 Welsh local authorities backdate the SMI discount to when you were diagnosed as becoming SMI (note this could be prior to when the diagnosis is actually made). MSE wants the rest of the UK to take up this approach to backdating and is currently campaigning for this change.
No. If your council has told you that you can only get the SMI discount if you've had adaptions to your home, or if you need to use a wheelchair indoors, it could have got confused with the Disabled Band Reduction Scheme. This is another discount for people who need extra space because of a disability.
No. If your council has told you that you can only get the SMI discount if you have less than a certain amount of savings – we've heard of cases where councils have said people can't have more than £16,000 of savings – they may have got confused with Council Tax Reduction Scheme (also known as Council Tax Support). This is a benefit to help pensioners on a low income or claiming certain benefits to pay their council tax.
A council call handler isn't able to diagnose you as SMI or not – only a registered medical practitioner can diagnose someone as SMI.
You should direct your council to the Local Government and Finance Act 1992 (Schedule 1, Paragraph 2) which explains that only a registered medical practitioner can certify someone as SMI.
Potentially, as the law allows each council to decide its own backdating policy. If you lived with someone who was SMI who's since died, or you are the executor to their will, you may be able to claim a rebate for the overpaid council tax – but this will depend on the policy of your local authority.
The most important thing when seeking to get an SMI diagnosis is to give your doctor the most accurate information, so they can make the best decision for you.
However, if you think you have been wrongly refused an SMI diagnosis by your doctor, the charities Alzheimer’s UK and Rethinking Mental Health recommend a number of actions you can take.
If you regularly see another registered medical practitioner other than your GP – such as a consultant or psychiatrist – you can ask them for a diagnosis instead.
You can also ask your GP to arrange a second opinion, either from a specialist or another GP. While it is worth asking, your GP doesn’t have to do this if they don’t think it’s necessary. If they refuse, and you still think you might qualify for a diagnosis, you may wish to change your GP.
Yes, depending on the policy of the local authority that you are applying to, you may still be able to claim for a previous address. If the local authority backdates to when you were diagnosed as first being SMI, you could get a rebate on payments for the period you lived in the previous address. However, each local authority has a different policy in regards to backdating.
This depends on the policy of the local authority – each council comes up with its own backdating policy. Not all councils will consider backdating, but it is worth gathering the required evidence and asking your local authority.
Alzheimer’s UK advises claimants to send a covering letter with their discount applications to request that the discount be backdated.
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