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Claim for Council Tax Reduction

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Welfare rights adviser - Plumstead Community Law Centre

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Secretary of State Amber Rudd has said ( Rightsnet 26 June 2019) that :

‘Unfortunately there has never been a legal basis for the process you describe whereby a third party can ‘protect the date of claim’ for universal credit claimants. It has always been the case that claims begin when a completed claim is submitted. There are some specific, designated circumstances in which the Department has the ability to backdate a claim (for example if a claimant is taken ill). However, a power to backdate universal credit has never been based on contact with third parties.’

This will also impact on claims for Council Tax Reduction because a claim for CTR must be made within one month of receipt of the UC claim;

The claimant must therefore act very quickly otherwise making contact with the CAB at the job centre will be no means be sufficient to make a claim for UC, still less to make a claim for council tax reduction as (unlike with the old CTB) a claim cannot be made directly via the DWP

Some councils are insisting on claimants making online claims for council tax reduction, potentially making the process far worse for claimants who are not computer literate.  This is arguably unlawful because Paragraph 3(2)  of Part 1 of Schedule 7 of the Council Tax Reduction) (Prescribed Requirements) (England) Regulations 2012 provides that authorities must provide (paper) claim forms free of charge, but on the other hand paragraph 4(b) allows an authority to accept a claim made in any written form that it may accept as sufficient in the circumstances.  Paragraph 2(c) also provides that claims may be made by telephone

The DWP guidance to LA’s issued at the time of the abolition of CTB stated at [10]-[13]

Application and decision making process

10. Billing authorities must set out in their schemes how a person can apply for a local council tax reduction. Applications will need to be made to authorities themselves and not to the Department for Work and Pensions. 

11. However, from 1 April 2013 the Department for Work and Pensions will ask applicants for existing benefits, such as Jobseeker’s allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, or State Pension Credit whether they also want to apply for council tax support. 

12. If the applicant does want to, the Department for Work and Pensions will forward the relevant data to the billing authority that may assist in the consideration of an application. This will not in itself constitute an application for council tax support

The guidance is of course not an authoritative statement of the law, but whilst the data referred to at paragraph 12 of the DWP guidance supposedly will not IN ITSELF constitute an application, if the person is getting say housing benefit because he is SDP protected, I do not see why an authority could not award a council tax reduction on the basis of documents that the person may have already provided to the designated office?

Lady Justice Arden said something very similar in the HB context when giving Judgement in Novitskaya v LB Brent (at [28])

Mr Broatch’s further submission is that housing benefit was not expressly referred to in the 10 June statement and therefore that that statement could not amount to a claim.  In my judgment, there is no justification for a requirement that every benefit being claimed must be expressly named.  Reg 72 does not say that. Moreover, contrary to Mr Broatch’s submission, I do not consider that, when he added the words “still less any particular benefit” in the passage cited above, Commissioner Turnbull intended to suggest that the specific benefit had to be identified in terms. There is no reason to imply such a requirement as I have mentioned because, provided that the reasonable official receiving the document can understand, with or without further information, which benefits are being claimed, there is no reason to have an express reference to them.  The claimant might, after all, not know the correct name of the benefit that she needed.  It cannot have been the intention of Parliament that she should go without the benefit because she did not know the right name. In my judgment, it is clear from paragraphs (6), (7) and (8) of reg 72 that Parliament did not intend that the courts should approach the question of what is a claim in an over-technical way:  that would defeat the object of the legislation. The form, after all, was to be completed by persons who included refugees would only have arrived in this country relatively recently.  I do not consider that the reasonable official would be under any doubt but that, if Mrs Novitskaya was arguably entitled to housing benefit, she was making a claim for that benefit.  This is confirmed by the fact that (as it appears) an official applied the words “HB and income support” to her statement.

In the light of Novitskaya, is there any reason why Councils could not be more liberal and award CTR if for example

•  a person claimed HB via the job centre (e.g. because he is SDP protected ) and the person was liable for CTAX at the same address , it would count as a claim for CTR, if the claim for HB was successful. or
• if a person getting HB , declared a COC which brought them into CTR entitlement , the declaration of the COC would count as a claim for CTR from the date it was declared. 

[ Edited: 7 Jul 2019 at 07:55 pm by Stainsby ]
HB Anorak
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Benefits consultant/trainer -, East London

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Some good points there Stainsby.  A similar issue arises when a UC claimant with fluctuating earnings has short periods in which his/her income is too high for CTR.  99% of local authorities in England, and the Scottish Welsh national schemes link i8ncome for CTR purposes to the income used in the UC calculation, so there is less scope to take a long term average and you will get months in which there is no entitlement to CTR.  Without any legal or practical mechanism to make a rapid reclaim for CTR via DWP, local authorities often wonder whether they can just start allowing CTR again and not insist on a new claim.

I don’t think anything bad will happen if they do.  CTR isn’t audited like HB, and in the unlikely event that some angry ratepayer type challenges the legality of CTR awards made to other people in those circumstances, the Council can always just call it a s13A(1)(c) discretionary reduction.