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Council Tax exceptional hardship policy 2021-2022

1. Introduction

Section 13A of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 (as amended by the Local Government Finance Act 2012), provides us with discretionary powers to reduce Council Tax liability.

The provision allows us the discretion to aid Council Taxpayers where either the existing legislation does not provide a discount, exemption or reduction or in circumstances where we have decided that the level of discount, exemption or reduction is insufficient.

An exceptional hardship fund funded by ourselves and the Office of the Fire, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire has been established to support those taxpayers who receive payments under the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme (LCTRS), and still have an amount of Council Tax to pay.

The funds are primarily to assist working age customers with payments of their Council Tax.

The exceptional hardship awards are not payments of Council Tax Reduction, the awards are discretionary, and Council Taxpayers do not have a statutory right to an award.

2. Aim of this policy

  • To provide a safety net to protect our most vulnerable working age Council Taxpayers and who need financial assistance
  • To reduce exceptional hardship and to help to alleviate poverty
  • To provide support to those residents who are trying to help themselves by obtaining debt and money advice

3. Exceptions

Exceptional hardship fund payments cannot be awarded in the following circumstances:

  • For any other reason, other than to reduce Council Tax liability
  • Where an authorised officer from West Northamptonshire Council considers that there are unnecessary expenses/debts and that the Council Taxpayer has not taken reasonable steps to reduce these
  • To reduce any Council Tax Reduction recoverable overpayment
  • To cover previous years’ Council Tax arrears
  • To cover a shortfall caused by a Department for Work and Pensions sanction or suspension which has been applied because the Council Taxpayer has turned down work/interview/training opportunities

4. Eligibility

In order to be eligible for a Council Tax exceptional hardship payment the applicant must be resident and have a Council Tax liability in West Northamptonshire area.

Whilst the definition of exceptional hardship is not defined in this policy, it is accepted that reduction to the level of support under LCTRS may cause financial hardship.

We will consider each case on its own merits and any payment made will be at our total discretion.

The Revenues and Benefits service will determine whether a payment should be made and how much any payment will be. The award may be less than the shortfall between Council Tax liability and the amount of LCTR in payment.

Any decision will be made considering the funding available, although this will not be the only consideration.

5. Criteria

When considering an application, the Revenues and Benefits service will consider the following criteria:

  • The applicant must be liable for council tax and all appropriate discounts, exemptions and reductions granted
  • If on LCTRS there must be a shortfall between the award of LCTR and Council Tax liability
  • The Council Taxpayer must be taking steps to seek help, for example, debt and money advice
  • The personal circumstances, age and medical circumstances of the Council Taxpayer, their partner and any dependants in the household will be taken into account
  • The income and expenditure of the household will be taken into account including savings or capital
  • This list is not exhaustive and other relevant factors and special circumstances will be considered

6. Application process

  • The Council Taxpayer must make a claim for an award
  • Application forms can be found online at Council Tax Hardship payment or can be obtained by calling calling 0300 126 7000. Help is available with the completion of the form upon request
  • The application form must be fully completed, and all supporting information and evidence must be provided
  • In most cases the person who claims the exceptional hardship award will be the person liable for council tax. However, a claim can be accepted from someone acting on another’s behalf, such as an appointee, if it is considered reasonable
  • The applicant is required to provide any information requested by us to support the claim and that may be required to decide
  • The applicant must advise us of any changes in circumstances that may be relevant to their claim
  • Residents may make subsequent applications once their initial award has expired or if their circumstances have changed

7. Decision making process and payments

  • Both the amount and duration of the award are determined at our discretion and the decision will be made based on the evidence supplied and the circumstances of the claim
  • The start date of any award will normally be the Monday after the written application for an award is received by us
  • Awards will be made for a minimum of one week
  • The maximum award will not exceed the end of the financial year 2021-2022
  • Any award will be made directly to the Council Tax account, so reducing the amount of Council Tax payable
  • In exceptional cases it may be possible to backdate an award based on individual circumstances of each case
  • Excess (overpaid) awards will be recovered directly from the Taxpayers Council Tax account, increasing the amount of Council Tax due and payable
  • We will notify the outcome of each application in writing. The notification will include the reason for the decision, the amount and duration of any award and will advise the taxpayer of their appeal rights

8. Appeals

Decisions are subject to an appeals process. If the Council Taxpayer is not satisfied with a decision made, they may request a review in writing.

Any request for review must be made in writing within one calendar month of the date of the notification letter confirming the original decision.

The review will be undertaken by an officer other than the original decision maker and a decision will be made within 14 days or as soon as practicable thereafter. The outcome of the review will be given in writing by us, detailing the reasons for changing or upholding the original decision. If we do not respond within two months to the request for a review or if the taxpayer considers that the decision made is incorrect, they can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal.

9. Fraud

We are committed to protecting public funds and to ensuring that funds are awarded to the people who are rightly eligible to them. An applicant who tries to fraudulently claim a discretionary discount or Exceptional Hardship Fund payment by falsely declaring their circumstances, providing a false statement or evidence in support of their application may have committed an offence under The Fraud Act 2006 or the Theft Act 1968. Where we suspect that fraud may have been committed, this matter will be investigated as appropriate and may lead to criminal proceedings being instigated.

Last updated 29 June 2022