How to claim the 'severely mentally impaired' council tax discount  

Who's eligible and what you need to know

Hundreds of thousands of people considered to be 'severely mentally impaired' in England, Scotland and Wales could be missing out on a council tax discount worth £100s – and even backdated payments worth £1,000s. We've been raising awareness of this discount for years now, and many have successfully claimed. See if it can help you too.  

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What is the 'severely mentally impaired' council tax discount?

The 'severely mentally impaired' (SMI) council tax discount is a reduction off of a household's council tax bill, worth, at a minimum, 25%, all the way up to, in some cases, the entire bill being wiped.

'Severely mentally impaired' is a horrible term, so we'll refer to it as SMI for the purposes of this guide.

SMI is a medical diagnosis in itself, but the underlying cause could be a condition such as dementia (including Alzheimer's), profound learning difficulties, multiple sclerosis, the result of a severe stroke or something else.

The discount size depends on who you live with

Council tax is discounted based on how many qualifying adults live in a house. Having SMI means you don't count towards this (like full-time students & under-18s), so...

- SMI living alone: house gets 100% council tax discount (ie, you pay nowt)
- SMI living with an adult carer: home gets 50% council tax discount
- SMI living with one qualifying adult: home gets single person reduction, so 25% discount
- SMI living with two or more qualifying adults: home pays full council tax, so no discount

And just to be clear, if there are under-18s, full-time students or others with SMI in the house as well, they don't change the situation above (as they don't count towards council tax either) - so a house where someone with an SMI lives with an under-18 still gets the 100% discount. See our full Council tax discounts help.

Why we've been campaigning on SMI for years

We began raising awareness of SMI back in 2016, and we've since seen many successful applications for the SMI discount...

My aunt has just received a refund worth over £7,000 and won't have to pay council tax again. She has been profoundly deaf since birth and now has dementia. At 96 and bed-bound, this will go a long way towards getting her the support she now requires.

- Jan

Thanks so much for the tip about council tax savings for people diagnosed as severely mentally impaired. I'd never heard of it until I saw your guide. My aunt, who has dementia, just received a refund from her council for £4,200. Looking ahead, it also means she'll be saving around £1,200/year off her council tax bill – a significant sum for a 92-year-old with limited income. 

- Maggie

Payouts can on occasions be even bigger than this, sometimes nearer to £10,000...

'Mum got a £15,000 council tax refund for her dementia and had future bills axed'

One of our biggest SMI successes was reported by Graham, whose wife applied for the discount on behalf of her 98-year-old mother, who has vascular dementia. Not only did the local authority reduce her council tax bill to zero, but she was also awarded a £15,000 backdated pay-out. You can read more in our 'Mum got £15,000 SMI council tax refund' news story.

Who can get the SMI council tax discount?

There are two criteria that must be met by someone who's severely mentally impaired in order to qualify for this council tax discount:

  1. They've been medically certified as being 'severely mentally impaired'. For example, this may be the case if they have dementia (including Alzheimer's), Parkinson's, severe learning difficulties, multiple sclerosis or have had a stroke.

    It will depend on each person's individual case though and simply having been diagnosed with one of these conditions doesn't automatically mean they qualify for the discount – a doctor must also certify they are 'severely mentally impaired'.

    GPs are not allowed to charge you for this certification.

  2. They're receiving at least one of the following benefits (in Scotland, being eligible for but not actually receiving the benefit can be enough):

    • 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 receiving:

    • 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 / receiving:

    • Tax credits (including disability element)
    • Employment and support allowance
    • Universal credit

Important. It used to be the case England and Wales that the person only had to be eligible for – but not necessarily actually receiving – the qualifying benefit, but this changed following a High Court ruling.

The law is less clear cut in Scotland, and so with some Scottish councils it's fine if you're just eligible for the qualifying benefit, while with others you'll need to actually be receiving the benefit. Sadly it's a bit of a postcode lottery.

How to claim the discount

The process for making a claim varies depending where you live, so you'll need to check your local authority's procedure.

These are the basics for England, Scotland and Wales, with details below about a roughly similar discount in Northern Ireland.

Applying for the discount in England and Scotland

  • 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).

  • Get a doctor's diagnosis. A registered medical practitioner must have diagnosed you (or the person you're applying for) as 'severely mentally impaired'. 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.

Where your claim is accepted, the discount should then apply automatically each year, meaning you won't have to 'reapply' (though you should contact your council if you believe you no longer qualify for the discount).

Can I backdate the claim?

It's always worth asking when you submit your claim, and while some councils do backdate, they are not legally obliged to – each council can decide their own policy. For example...

  • Some councils backdated the discount by six years.
  • Some backdate to the point that the individual was receiving a certain benefit.
  • But we've also heard some councils don't backdate at all. 

As we say, do ask... as we've even heard of some councils only giving a backdated payout when asked.

Applying for the discount in Wales

Following the publication of our report The Disregarded Discount, which outlines several changes that councils should make to the process for getting discounts and rebates, the Welsh Government and all 22 Welsh local authorities agreed to make every change we called for. 

This means the application form for the discount has been standardised across the country, and backdating is allowed by EVERY council in a standardised way. Bravo Wales! 

The Welsh Government has a dedicated webpage, with details of the discount and how to claim, and a leaflet of the information (which also helps council call-handlers).

If you're in Wales and want to claim a discount, you need to:

  • Print the application form from the Welsh Government website.

  • Get a diagnosis (or get a diagnosis for the resident you wish to claim for). To be eligible, the person claiming the discount must be diagnosed as SMI by a doctor. There's a section for your doctor to fill in on the form. 

  • Send it to your council's tax office. You can find details for your council here.

The form will ask for a date of diagnosis, so if you're owed a backdated rebate, your application form will cover this.

There's only a roughly equivalent discount in Northern Ireland

Because there is the rates system in Northern Ireland, rather than council tax, every property is valued individually.

The only roughly similar discount to SMI in Northern Ireland 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.

Let us know how you've got on. Whether you've successfully claimed, or have tried to but had problems, tell us at smi@moneysavingexpert.com.

Also see our Disability money matters MSE Forum board to see other people's experience of claiming the SMI discount.

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Rejected for an SMI discount? You can appeal

It's possible to appeal if you are initially rejected for a 'severely mentally impaired' council tax discount

Some people have reported struggling to claim the SMI discount, 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."

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.

Do note that if you have been accepted for an SMI discount but you're unhappy with how far the council is willing to backdate your claim, you can also appeal this (provided you have legitimate reason to dispute this).

The appeals process differs depending on where you live:

If you live in England

If the council rejects your SMI application but you disagree with its decision, you should first appeal directly to the council itself. The council will have two months to issue its final response.

  • Should the council 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 within two months, you can automatically take your case to the Valuation Tribunal Service. However, this must be done within four months of sending the initial appeal.

You can take your case to the Valuation Tribunal Service by filling in this online form.

If you live in Wales

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'll need to fill in the 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 correspondence@valuationtribunal.wales. 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 appeal 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 you live in Scotland

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 either of the following apply:

  • Your council has replied to your appeal within two months without resolving the dispute.

  • The council has not replied within two months and you have sent another final written communication to your council in which you say you'd like to appeal to your local Valuation Appeal Committee, and this written communication is sent within four months of sending your first appeal.

When the council refers your case, your local Valuation Appeal Committee will get in touch directly with you. 

Quick question

  • Can I complain about how the council has handled my application?

    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 living in England

    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 living in Wales

    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 living in Scotland

    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. 

SMI discount FAQs

  • I have been diagnosed with dementia – does this make me eligible for the SMI discount?

    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, multiple sclerosis, 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. 

  • Do I need to live alone to get the SMI discount?

    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. 

  • Can my GP charge me for a doctor's certificate proving I am SMI?

    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.

  • Can I backdate my claim to when I was diagnosed as becoming SMI?

    Not necessarily. While some councils do backdate, they are not legally obliged to – each council can decide their own policy.

    For example:

    • We’ve heard some councils do not backdate at all;
    • We’ve heard from several users that their council backdated the discount by six years;
    • We’ve also heard that many councils backdate to the point that the individual was receiving a certain benefit, such as attendance allowance.

    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. 

  • I've been told I can only get the SMI discount if I've had adaptations to my home – is this true?

    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.

  • I've been told I can't get the SMI discount because I have savings – is this true?

    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.

  • The council call handler told me I'm not SMI – what can I do?

    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 2which explains that only a registered medical practitioner can certify someone as SMI.

  • Can I claim for someone who is now dead?

    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. 

  • I believe I'm SMI, but my doctor won't sign my form – what can I do?

    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.

  • Can I claim for a previous address in another local authority?

    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.

  • My council says the discount can only be backdated to when I was receiving a certain benefit – is that right?

    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.

Other MSE council tax guides... 

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