This fact sheet is aimed mainly at people who have problems with a claim for council tax support and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
What is council tax support?
From 1 April 2013 council tax support replaced council tax benefit as a way of reducing a council tax bill for those on a low income. All claims since then have been council tax support claims. Every council has its own local scheme. Some councils call their schemes 'council tax reduction.'
I have a problem with my council tax support claim. Can the Ombudsman help me?
Yes, as long as your complaint is about the way the council has dealt with your claim.
But if you disagree with a decision the council has made on your claim, such as the amount of reduction you have been awarded, you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal service. We would normally expect you to appeal rather than make a complaint to us.
We cannot consider a complaint about a council’s actual council tax support scheme. The law says these can only be challenged by judicial review in the High Court.
How do I complain?
You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.
Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is usually reasonable – you can complain to us.
You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.
If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?
We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your claim which has caused you problems. We cannot say whether you are entitled to a reduction or not. Some of the issues we can look at are:
- delay in processing your claim
- delay in applying the reduction to your council tax account after the claim has been decided
- delay in dealing with your challenge to a decision. For example, through failing to recognise your letter as a request for the council to look at its decision, or delay in making a decision on your challenge
- failure to notify you properly of a decision and of your rights of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal service
- unreasonable delay in responding to correspondence (we normally consider it reasonable to allow the council one month to process your claim once it has the necessary information), or
- complaints about awards from a council's exceptional/discretionary relief fund.
What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?
We can recommend the council takes action to put the matter right. This depends on what the complaint is about, but often we will ask the council to:
- determine the ongoing or backdated claim
- credit the reduction due to your council tax account
- issue or re-issue a decision notice with the correct information and appeal rights, or
- consider your challenge to a decision.
We can recommend that the council makes you a payment. The amount we ask for will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong.
- Where we find that there has been unreasonable delay, we may recommend a payment to recognise the anxiety and inconvenience caused. If you have got into arrears because of the delay, or the council has taken you to court for a council tax debt, we may ask for a payment for the additional distress.
- In deciding how much to ask for, we can also take account of what you have or haven’t done to help the council. So, for example, if you have taken a long time to provide information which the council needs to make a decision on your claim, or if you know that your benefit will only cover a small part of your council tax but still do not pay anything towards it, we may have to reduce the amount we ask for.
We may recommend that the council improves procedures so that the same problems do not occur again. For example, in some cases we have asked councils to introduce systems allowing them to check when people are waiting for council tax benefit claims to be processed before issuing summonses for council tax arrears.
Examples of some complaints we have considered
Other sources of information
Shelter has a section on Advice and Support at england.shelter.org.uk
Citizens Advice has a Your Money/Benefits section at www.adviceguide.org.uk
Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.