A debt expert has explained a little-known way for struggling households to have their council tax arrears wiped off.
Local authorities in England and Wales have the power to reduce – or even write off – what you owe under Section 13A of the Local Government Finance Act 1992.
Section 13A write offs are typically used if your house is uninhabitable because of flooding or fire.
But you can also ask for help if you don't have any money to pay your bills.
The money off you could receive depends on your individual circumstances, so it isn’t a given that you’ll get any sort of reduction at all.
There may also be quicker ways to tackle your council tax debt – we explain in more detail below.
Council tax is a priority bill that needs to be paid
Most importantly, don't ignore your council tax bill, as not paying it can result in bailiffs coming round, court action or even imprisonment.
Sara Williams, owner of the Debt Camel blog, said: “Section 13A write-offs aren’t common because hardly anyone has heard of them.
“But in 2021 these discretionary write-offs may be more used because so many people have major financial problems because of the pandemic.”
How do I use Section 13A?
The first step is to check how much you actually owe in council tax debt.
Some statements only include the current tax year, so make sure you check if you owe money for any previous years as well.
Once you've got this figure, check your council's website to see if they have a page for making a Section 13A application.
If they have a form, you should fill this out instead of writing a letter, says Ms Williams.
You should also remember to provide supporting evidence to back up your application, such as bank statements, payslips and benefit letters.
Have you used Section 13A to wipe off your council tax debt? Let us know: email@example.com
Ms Williams recommends getting a free Income and Expenditure statement – which shows your income and outgoings – to increase your chances of success.
Use the National Debtline Your Budget tool to draw one up for free.
"When the council just says 'send supporting evidence' without a list, you should attach an I&E sheet and your two most recent bank statements," says Ms Williams.
"If you have a partner, you need to attach their bank statements as well."
If your council doesn't have a form for Section 13A applications, then you should write in to them to see what support they can offer.
Email your application to the council tax department so you have proof of your correspondence.
If you're stuck on what to write, the Debt Camel blog has a draft version of a letter that you can use and tweak to your individual circumstances.
Your application should explain the cause of your problems, their effect on you and your family and if you've tried to reduce your outgoings.
For example, if you haven't been eligible for any support during the Covid-19 pandemic or if your health has contributed to your money problems.
What happens if I am rejected?
If you're rejected by your council, and you think they've made the wrong decision, you can take your case to the relevant and free Valuation Tribunal depending on where you live.
You should make an appeal within two months of getting a rejection from your council.
Ms William adds: "If you don’t get a reply from your council in two months you could complain to the council.
"But this may delay taking your case to the independent Valuation Tribunal, so it may be better to send the appeal to the Valuation Tribunal straight away."
Are there other ways to reduce my council tax debt?
Before submitting a section 13A application, you should look into other ways to reduce your council tax and other bills first.
Help offered varies between local authorities, so it's best to get in touch with your council to see what you could claim.
For example, if you claim benefits – such as Universal Credit or Pension Credit – you could be entitled to up to 100% off your council tax bill.
Other situations where you could get money off include if you live alone or live with someone who doesn't qualify for paying council tax.
You'll typically get 25% off in these scenarios.
You could get 50% off your council tax bill if everyone is your home is “disregarded” from this bill.
And the maximum 100% discount could apply to someone who has a severe mental impairment and lives alone, or if you live in an all-student household.
If you're really struggling with your bills or are getting deeper into debt – don't sit in silence.
Speak to one of the following organisations:
- Citizens Advice (0808 800 9060)
- StepChange (0800 138 1111)
- National Debtline (0808 808 4000)