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Council Tax exceptional hardship policy 2024-2025

1. Introduction

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

The provision allows the discretion to help Council Taxpayers where either the existing legislation does not provide a discount, exemption, or reduction or in circumstances where the Council has decided that the level of discount, exemption or reduction is insufficient given the circumstances. An exceptional hardship fund has been established by West Northamptonshire Council. 

There is a financial implication to awarding reductions under Section 13A as the Council must fund all awards from our own funds. The funds are there to assist vulnerable customers and those who are experiencing exceptional financial hardship 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. 

The Council may choose to vary the way in which funds are allocated according to local needs.

2. Aims of this policy

We recognise that now more than ever we need to be able to respond to the needs of taxpayers within the district to support strong and sustainable local communities. 

The aims of this policy are as follows:

  • To help to mitigate needs that may arise from unforeseen or exceptional circumstances which mean that Council Tax cannot be paid.
  • To provide a safety net to protect our most vulnerable Council Taxpayers who need financial assistance
  • To reduce exceptional hardship and to help to alleviate poverty
  • To provide support to those residents who are taking steps to help themselves for example by engaging with debt and money advice agencies

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 Council Tax arrears prior to the financial year 2021-2022
  • 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
  • To cover court costs imposed by West Northamptonshire Council

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. Exceptional hardship is not defined in this policy. Each application will be considered in its own merits and any payment made will be at the total discretion of the Council. 

The Revenues and Benefits service will determine whether a payment should be made and how much any payment will be. Consideration will be made as to whether a referral to the Council’s Money Advice team or debt advice agencies would be required. 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 should be taking steps to seek help, for example, debt and money advice. If you are seeking support from debt and money advice agencies, you will be required to evidence this at application stage
  • 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
  • The Council Taxpayer should not become reliant on this support. Council Tax is regarded as a priority debt and the Council Taxpayer should be making all efforts to contributing towards the liability

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 Apply for a Council Tax Hardship Payment or can be obtained by 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. The application must confirm the level of discount being requested, the reason for the request, steps that have been taken to meet the Council Tax liability. 

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 on the outcome of the award. 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. We may consider referring you to the Council’s Money Advice team or debt advice agencies to obtain additional support.

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 are usually considered from the beginning of the financial year 2024-2025, which will not exceed the end of the financial year 2024-2025. In exceptional cases it may be possible to backdate an award, based on individual circumstances of each case, however the maximum period that a claim can be considered for backdating is from the financial year 2021-2022. 

Any award will be made directly to the Council Tax account, which will reduce your balance. All subsequent instalments will need to be payable according to the demand issued.

If the Council becomes aware that the information contained in an application for S13A was incorrect or that information has not been declared, the Council may seek to recover the value of any award. 

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. Review of Decision

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 a review must be made in writing within one calendar month of 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 may appeal to the Valuation Tribunal for England (VTE) within two months of the decision being sent.

Telephone: 0300 445 8100

Valuation Tribunal Service
Second Floor
120 Leman Street
E1 8EU

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 03 July 2024