While council tax bills are likely to rise for most people from April, some local authorities are scrapping the tax entirely for vulnerable residents.
During the Autumn Statement in November, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt gave local authorities in England greater flexibility for setting council tax during the next financial year, paving the way for bills to increase by up to 5% without the need for a local referendum.
While more than a dozen councils have already laid out their proposed hikes, a few local authorities are planning to abolish the mandatory tax altogether for low-income households – but help on this scale is rare.
Here, Which? takes a closer look at how councils are helping to ease the squeeze for people living in their constituencies.
Which councils are scrapping council tax?
So far, only a handful of local authorities are planning to waive council tax for their most vulnerable residents.
Vale of White Horse District Council
Council tax will be scrapped for an estimated 1,400 low-income households living in this part of Oxfordshire.
Councillors have now agreed to remove the current cap on support for working-age people who are not disabled or in receipt of employment support allowance.
At present, the cap is 91.5% and means those on low incomes still have to pay a minimum of 8.5% of their overall council tax bill. But from April, eligible claimants will pay nothing.
Worthing Borough Council
In Worthing, eligible low income households can already have their council tax charge reduced to £5 a week, the equivalent of around £260 per year. But, from April, this minimum charge will be scrapped.
The council said changes to the system will also make it easier for residents to claim council tax support when they apply for Universal Credit. Instead of having to submit a separate application for council tax support, from April, Universal Credit claimants who are eligible for council tax support will automatically receive it.
Stafford Borough Council
Stafford Borough Council is looking at changes to its Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme. If the changes are introduced, an extra 1,700 households will pay no council tax in 2023-24.
Under the current means-tested system, working-age claimants on low incomes can get a reduction of up to 80% on their bill. But under the new proposals, people will be offered a 100% discount.
The decision is due in February.
What other support are councils offering?
To gauge how councils are helping those in the UK areas most in need, we contacted the local authorities serving the regions highlighted in the Priority Places for Food Index – the study which informed our Affordable Food For All campaign.
Birmingham City Council
Constituencies in Birmingham feature heavily at the top of the index. Hodge Hill, for example, had the highest proportion of local areas that are ‘priority places’ and in dire need of extra support.
The city council is offering the following support:
Knowsley in the Liverpool area ranked second on the index of local areas in need of extra help, and is offering the following support:
Sunderland City Council
Houghton and Sunderland South constituency was in third place on the Priority Places for Food Index.
Sunderland City Council told us it has no plans to raise council tax by the maximum 5%, and is supporting residents with the cost of living crisis in the following main ways:
The constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran was at the top of the index in Scotland. When we asked Ayrshire Council how it’s helping residents, it said help includes:
Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council
Rhondda was ranked the most in-need area in Wales when it comes to needing support to keep residents fed. Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council told us it was helping residents in the following ways:
East Londonderry had the most areas in need of support to access affordable food in Northern Ireland. Derry City and Strabane District Council have been helping residents in these ways:
Can I reduce my council tax bill?
Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for a council tax reduction. You can get a 25% discount if you live alone or with others who are ‘disregarded’ for council tax purposes – such as students. Other discounts and reductions are available on empty properties, for instance, as well as second and holiday homes. These discounts aren’t applied automatically, so if you think you fit the bill, you’ll need to write to the council and make your case.
Reviewing your council tax band is another option, if you think the original valuation of your home might have been wrong, or changes made to the property’s use or size since its valuation might alter the band it should sit in.
While a move to a lower council tax band would see your bills get cheaper and likely get you a council tax refund for the tax you’ve overpaid, note that it’s also possible to be reclassified into a higher band, which would increase your bills.
What happens if I can’t pay my council tax bill?
If you are unable to pay your bill, contact your local council immediately. There are several ways it may be able to help, including rescheduling your payments, reducing your payments if you’re on a low income or claiming benefits, and offering ‘hardship relief’.
Failing to pay your council tax bill can have serious consequences. If you don’t pay after receiving a final notice, then councils can take legal action, including getting your employer to pay your unpaid council tax directly from your wages, or sending in bailiffs. If everything else fails, then you can be taken to court and even face jail time.