By Sally West
Income Policy Officer, Age Concern England
Sally West: Pensioners must claim the benefit
Many older people are concerned about increasing levels of council tax, with thousands taking to the streets in protest. Many pensioners live on a low, fixed income and struggle to pay their rising council tax bills. But there is help available.
Currently up to 1.4 million eligible older people miss out on council tax benefit, resulting in up to £580m remaining unclaimed each year The average amount unclaimed is £7.50 a week, or £390 a year.
Since the launch of pension credit in October 2003, an additional 1.9 million pensioners are entitled to council tax benefit or other money benefits - so even if you've applied before and not been eligible, you may well be entitled to claim now.
And the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has recently taken steps to make claiming this benefit easier by introducing a tailored claim form specifically for pensioners.
Am I eligible?
If you are on a low income and currently pay council tax, chances are you will be eligible for council tax benefit.
WHERE CAN I GET FURTHER HELP?
Department for Work and Pensions: Download claim forms for some benefits, obtain leaflets, publications and other information including details of your social security office.
Local Authority/Council: You will find the address of your local authority in the phone book
Age Concern office: Most areas have a local Age Concern office which may provide benefits information. Free factsheets can be obtained from its information Line: 0800 00 99 66 (freephone)
Even if you receive other benefits or council tax discounts, you may still be entitled to more help towards your bill.
If you receive the guarantee part of the pension credit, income support or income-based Jobseekers Allowance, you should get a full council tax rebate - but you must make a claim.
If you have a non-dependant person living with you, other than your partner, this rebate may be reduced.
The benefit is based on your income and savings and in general you must have no more than £16,000 in savings - although if you receive the guarantee part of pension credit there is no upper capital limit.
Other factors such as people in your family, whether you are disabled and the level of your rent and council tax may affect the amount.
If you are a married couple or a man and woman living together as though you are married, you will be assessed together. Your income and savings will be added together and only one of you will need to make a claim.
How do I apply?
If you apply for pension credit, you should be asked whether you would like a form to make a claim for council tax benefit. Local pension service staff will be able to help you to fill in the form if you see them directly.
Income support claim forms also include a form to send to your local authority. Otherwise, you can contact your local authority directly and ask them to send you a claim form.
I don't qualify for council tax benefit. Is there anywhere else I can get help?
Even if you find you're not eligible for council tax benefit based on your income and savings, there are other ways to reduce your bill:
- Exemptions: Some properties will be exempt from council tax altogether; for example, if your previous home is unoccupied because you are being cared for or a full-time carer yourself.
- Disability reductions scheme: Your property may be placed in a lower band resulting in a lower council tax bill if it has features such as extra space for a wheelchair.
- Discounts: Some bills can be reduced by up to 50%. There is a 25% discount for all properties where only one person is liable to pay council tax.
- Second adult rebate: A little known part of the council tax benefit scheme, this can provide a rebate for people who do not qualify for their own benefit but have someone on a low income living with them.
And there are many other ways to boost your income. Money related benefits such as pension credit, housing benefit and attendance allowance are all worth looking into. Hundreds of millions of pounds in benefits cash lies unclaimed each year so it's well worth taking the time to check all your entitlements.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.