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Council Tax Exceptional Circumstance Policy 2020/21

Background

Exceptional Circumstance and equalities

Purpose of this policy

The exceptional circumstance process

Exceptional circumstance award

Publicity

Claiming an exceptional circumstance award

Changes in circumstances

Duties of the applicant and the applicant's household

The award and duration of an exceptional circumstance award

Payment

Overpaid exceptional circumstance payments

Notification of an award

Appeals

Fraud

Complaints

Policy review

Benchmarking

Background

An Exceptional Circumstance Policy has been created by Ashford Borough Council to assist persons who have applied for council tax reduction and who are facing 'exceptional circumstances'. This is to provide further assistance where an applicant has made a claim for council tax reduction but the level or support being paid by the council does not meet their full council tax liability. 

The main features of the policy are as follows:

  • The operation of the policy will be at the total discretion of the council;
  • The policy will be applied by the revenues & benefits section on behalf of the council;
  • Exceptional circumstance falls within S13(A)(1a) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 and forms part of the council tax reduction scheme;
  • Exception circumstance awards will only be available for a council tax liability from 1 April 2020 onwards and will not be available for any other debt other than outstanding council tax;
  • To receive an award, an application for a council tax reduction will need to be made, unless there are exceptional circumstances which would preclude any entitlement to a council tax reduction;
  • Where an exceptional circumstance award is requested for a previous period, exceptional circumstance must have been proven to have existed throughout the whole of the period requested and will only be backdated to the start of the financial year in which the claim is made;
  • Exceptional circumstance awards are designed as short-term help to the applicant only;
  • All applicants will be expected to engage with the council and undertake the full application process. Failure to do so may mean that no payment will be made

Exceptional circumstance and equalities

The creation of an Exceptional Circumstance Policy facility meets the council's obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

The council recognises the impact the changes to our council tax reduction scheme will have on our most vulnerable residents and therefore the importance of this policy has in protecting those applicants most in need from exceptional circumstance. It should be noted that an Exceptional Circumstance Policy is intended to help in cases of extreme financial hardship and not support a lifestyle or lifestyle choice.

Purpose of this policy

The purpose of this policy is to specify how Ashford Borough Council will operate the scheme, to detail the application process and indicate a number of factors, which will be considered when deciding if an exceptional circumstance payment can be made.

Each case will be treated on its own merits and all applicants will be treated fairly and equally in both accessibility and also decisions made.

The exceptional circumstance process

As part of the process of applying for additional support, all applicants must be willing to undertake all of the following:

  • Make a separate application in writing for assistance;
  • Provide full details of their income and expenditure;
  • Where a person is self-employed or a director of a private limited company, provide details of their business including supplying business accounts;
  • Accept assistance from either the council or third parties where applicable (such as Citizen's Advice Bureau and Money Advice Service) to enable them to manage their finances more effectively – including the termination of non-essential expenditure and assessment of the potential for additional paid employment where applicable;
  • Identify potential changes in payment methods and arrangements to assist them;
  • Assist the council to minimise liability by ensuring that all discounts, exemptions and reductions are properly granted;
  • Maximise their income through the application for other welfare benefits, cancellation of non-essential contracts and outgoings and by identifying the most economical tariffs for the supply of utilities and services generally

Through the operation of this policy the council will look to:

  • Allow a short period of time for someone to adjust to unforeseen short-term circumstances and to enable them to "bridge the gap" during this time, whilst the applicant seeks alternative solutions;
  • Help applicants through personal crises and difficult events that affect their finances;
  • Help those applicants who are trying to help themselves financially;
  • Encourage applicants to contact the Job Centre Plus or the Job Club to obtain and sustain employment, where applicable

An exceptional circumstance award will not be considered in the following circumstances:

  • Where the full council tax liability is being met by council tax reduction;
  • For any other reason other than to reduce council tax liability;
  • Where the council considers that there are unnecessary expenses/debts, etc. and that the applicant has not taken reasonable steps to reduce them;
  • To cover previous years council tax arrears 

Exceptional circumstance award

The council will decide whether or not to make an exceptional circumstance award, and how much any award might be.

When making this decision the council will consider:

  • The shortfall between council tax reduction and council tax liability;
  • Whether the applicant has engaged with the exceptional circumstance process;
  • The personal circumstances, age and medical circumstances (including ill health and disabilities) of the applicant, their partner, any dependants or other occupants of the applicant's home;
  • All income received by the applicant, their partner and any member of their household irrespective of whether the income may fall to be disregarded under the council tax reduction scheme;
  • Any savings or capital that might be held by the applicant, their partner and any member of their household irrespective of whether the capital may fall to be disregarded under the council tax reduction scheme;
  • Other debts outstanding for the applicant and their partner;
  • The exceptional nature of the applicant and/or their family's circumstances that impact on finances;
  • The length of time they have lived in the property

The above list is not exhaustive and other relevant factors and special circumstances will be considered. 

An award of exceptional circumstance does not guarantee that a further award will be made at a later date, even if the applicant's circumstances have not changed.

An exceptional circumstance award may be less than the difference between the council tax liability and the amount of council tax reduction paid. The application may be refused if the authority feels that, in its opinion, the applicant is not suffering 'exceptional circumstance' or where the applicant has failed to comply with the exceptional circumstance process. 

Publicity 

The council will make a copy of this policy available for inspection and will be published on the council's website.

Claiming an exceptional circumstance award

An applicant must make a claim for an exceptional circumstance award by submitting an online application to the council via our website.

Applicants can get assistance with the completion of the form from our revenues & benefits service or customer services teams.

The application form must be fully completed and supporting information or evidence provided, as reasonably requested by the council. 

In most cases the person who claims the exceptional circumstance award will be the person entitled to council tax reduction. However, a claim can be accepted from someone acting on another's behalf, such as an appointee, if it is considered reasonable.

Changes in circumstances

The council may revise an award of exceptional circumstance where the applicant's circumstances have changed which either increases or reduces their council tax reduction entitlement. The exceptional circumstance award may be increased or decreased.

Duties of the applicant and the applicant's household

A person claiming an exceptional circumstance payment is required to:

  • Provide the council with such information as it may require to make a decision;
  • Tell the council of any changes in circumstances that may be relevant to their ongoing claim within 21 days of the change

The award and duration of an exceptional circumstance award

Both the amount and the duration of the award are determined at the discretion of the council, and will be done so on the basis of the evidence supplied and the circumstances of the claim.

The start date and duration of any award will be determined by the council. The maximum length of the award will be limited to the financial year in which the claim is received. 

Payment

Any exceptional circumstance award will be made direct onto the taxpayer's council tax account, thereby reducing the amount of council tax payable.

Overpaid exceptional circumstance payments

Overpaid exceptional circumstance payments will generally be recovered directly from the applicant's council tax account, thus increasing the amount of council tax due and payable.

Notification of an award

The council will notify the resident of the outcome of their application for an exceptional circumstance award.

Appeals

Exceptional circumstance awards are granted under S13A(1a) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 as part of the council tax reduction scheme, as such the normal council tax appeal process applies and an appeal can be made at any time. The initial appeal should be made to the council who will review any decision. Ultimately, any decision can be considered by an independent Valuation Tribunal.

Fraud

The council is committed to protect public funds and ensure funds are awarded to the people who are rightfully eligible to them.

An applicant who tries to fraudulently claim an exceptional circumstance payment by falsely declaring their circumstances, providing a false statement or evidence in support of their applications, may have committed an offence under The Fraud Act 2006.

Where the council suspects that such a fraud may have been committed, this matter will be investigated as appropriate and may lead to criminal proceedings being instigated. 

Complaints

Our complaints procedure will be applied in the event of any complaint received about the application of this policy.

Policy review

This policy will be reviewed on an annual basis and updated as appropriate to ensure it remains fit for purpose. However, a review may take place sooner should there be any significant changes in legislation.

Benchmarking

Ashford Borough Council will monitor overall exceptional circumstance expenditure annually and will benchmark against the other Kent Local Authorities.