One good bit of council tax news: the 25% discount for single occupiers remains in place
It has happened because the national council tax benefit system ended in April when responsibility for it was transferred to local councils. Every local authority in England, Wales, and Scotland has to devise their own scheme and with £400 million less to do it with.
In Scotland and Wales the devolved governments have stepped in and the same rules will apply throughout those countries as they do this year. Though that concession is expensive and may not last into 2014/15.
But in England the new council tax reduction scheme is different in each of the 326 councils. And that means people who have been used to getting all their council tax paid may have been asked to pay some – usually about a quarter of it – and others who had their council tax reduced will pay more.
These amounts are hard to find from budgets that may already have been stretched due to wage freezes, lack of work, or other benefit cuts and restrictions.
Councils have two separate hardship funds which people in financial difficulty can apply for. But using either to help with council tax bills may be difficult.
You can ask for a Discretionary Housing Payment to get help with housing or accommodation costs. But help with council tax is now specifically excluded from that scheme. It can only be paid if you get housing benefit as well and then only to meet other housing costs – not council tax.
There will also be a local fund that has replaced the Department for Work and Pensions Social Fund which used to give grants and loans for a variety of emergencies. It is just possible that this local replacement fund will be able to help you.
The only alternative is to look to charity. A useful starting point is the organisation called Turn-2-Us which has links to grants which can help people, some dependent on their current or previous job.
Help with council tax should not change for people who have reached women’s state pension age or above – which currently means born 5 November 1951 or earlier. And if you reach that age then you should make sure your council tax help is increased.
The 25% discount off council tax for a single occupier is not being changed – that applies through Great Britain. And the reduction by one council tax band for people who have had their home adapted for a disability will also continue as before.
* Read Paul Lewis's money articles every month in Saga Magazine.