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Benefit Decision Letters Explained

If you have received a housing benefits and council tax reduction letter and you’re not sure what it all means, let us help to make it clear.

We have created these videos to explain the letters you receive as well as the common words or phrases you may come across in them.

If you need any further help or advice, please contact us or read our frequently asked questions about benefit decision (entitlement) letters at the bottom of this page.

Housing benefit and council tax reduction letters explained

Pip, from our Customer Services team, takes you through what you will find on your housing benefit award and council tax reduction letters.

Can't see the video? Watch our benefits letters explained video on YouTube.

Benefits dictionary

Pip helps you understand some of the commonly used words and phrases you'll find in our letters.

Can't see the video? Watch our benefits dictionary video on YouTube.

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Frequently Asked Questions

+ Why do we send housing benefit and council tax reduction award notification letters?

There are several reasons:
  • If you get help with your council tax, this is based on the amount of council tax charged. Every year the council tax levels are reviewed, and as there is an increase to the charge this year we have to reassess your award. If your council tax reduction award changes, we have to tell you about this by letter.
  • We have to do this even if you are of pension age and you qualify for full council tax reduction and so don’t have to pay council tax. You will still get a bill if this is the case. This is how the council tax service tells you that you have nothing to pay.
  • If your rent changes in April we have to reassess your housing benefit. If your housing benefit changes, we have to tell you about this by letter.
  • For some people who get council tax reduction or housing benefit, their award is based on a means test. Part of the means test is the applicable amount. Every year the figures that are used in calculating the applicable amount change and we have to tell you about this by letter.
  • For those people whose awards are based on a means test, some of the incomes we use in that test may change in April. If this affects your award we have to tell you about this by letter.
If your council tax, rent, applicable amount or income changes in April your award is likely to be reassessed. This means virtually everyone who gets housing benefit and/or council tax reduction will receive a letter at the same time. We try to keep the number of letters each person receives as low as possible (to cut down on costs and to keep things simple) but we don't always know of all the changes at the same time, and this can mean we have to send additional letters as we learn about other changes. If you receive multiple council tax bills or benefit notification letters the correct bill and letters will always be the one with the most recent date and will supersede any previous bill or letter which has been sent.

+ What is a means test?

A means test is how we work out how much help you are entitled to. To do this we compare the income a family receives to their applicable amount. If the income is higher than the applicable amount then the award starts to reduce.

+ What is an applicable amount?

The applicable amount is a calculation we do to work out how much your family needs to live on each week, and the amount is set by the government. We don’t need to calculate an applicable amount for people receiving income support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related employment and support allowance or guaranteed Pension Credit. Watch our benefits dictionary video above, which takes you through some of the common words and phrases you may come across in our letter.

+ What do I do now?

You need to carefully check each page of the letter to make sure the information we are using to work out your award is correct. This is very important because if your details are wrong and we pay you too much, we may ask you to repay any amount overpaid.

+ What if I don’t agree with my council tax reduction decision?

If you disagree with your council tax reduction decision you can:  
  • write to the Benefits Service and ask for a detailed statement as to how we arrived at the decision detailed in your notification letter. You must do this within one calendar month of the date of your letter, or
  • write to the Benefits Service stating why you disagree with the decision. You need to clearly state what you disagree with about our decision and why. We will look at your entitlement again and write to you. If you still disagree with the decision, or we have not dealt with your appeal within two months, you can appeal directly to the independent Valuation Tribunal. For further information visit the Valuation Tribunal website

+ What if I don’t agree with my housing benefit decision?

If you disagree with your housing benefit decision you can:
  • write to the Benefits Service and ask for a detailed statement as to how we arrived at the decision detailed in your notification letter, or
  • write to the Benefits Service and ask us to look at your claim again, or
  • write to the Benefits Service and appeal against the decision. You need to clearly state what you disagree with about our decision and why. We will look at our decision again. If the decision is wrong we will change it and send you a new decision letter. If we can’t change the decision, or if we
  • change our decision but not in your favour, you can then appeal to the Tribunals Service
You must do any of these within one month of the date on your decision letter.

+ What if I agree with the assessment but something is going to change soon?

Please tell us just before the change happens. You can use a change of circumstances form to do this. We will also need to see proof of your new circumstances. You don’t need to tell us about changes to the amount of council tax you have to pay or, if you are a council tenant, changes to your rent.

+ What if I agree with the assessment?

If you pay council tax, the bill sent to you is based on this assessment and so any balance left to pay should be paid as stated on the bill.

If your bill says direct debit, the instalments will be collected from your bank account.

If you rent your home from the council, your housing benefit will be credited to your rent account.

If you don’t rent your home from the council we will pay any housing benefit as stated in the letter.

If you are in receipt of Universal Credit, please visit our Universal Credit page for information on how your Housing Element is paid.

+ Council Tax bills 2020/21

Please read our Council Tax FAQs for more information about your bill.