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Is the 25% single persons discount discretionary?


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I'm having a bit of a debate with my council at the moment regarding my single persons discount, and I'm trying to find out whether there are any reasons other than late payment or not being eligible under the definition of a single person where the discount can be withdrawn.

 

I live on my own and have done so for over 10 years. This week I've received a letter from the council claiming that they have some evidence that suggests that either my flat is my second home, or that someone lives here is well. I wish I were in a position where I could afford two homes, but sadly that isn't the case, and I am most definitely the only person living here. Still, if the council have some concerns I have no qualms about them contacting me, they have an obligation to prevent fraud.

 

However, my issue is that the means by which they are attempting to conduct their checks seem unreasonably intrusive, and worse still, utterly flawed. I have been asked to provide a copies of both a recent utility bill and a bank statement. If this were a means tested benefit I could understand the demand for a bank statement, but that doesn't apply here. I have been the victim of identity theft in the past (fortunately resolved very painlessly), so I am not happy about providing copies of my financial records to anyone unless there is a legitimate reason.

 

It is isn't even the case that either of these documents could prove to the council that I am the only person living here. On taking this up with the council they have agreed that neither my bank statement nor the utility bill can prove that I live here on my own, or that I live here at all. In the past when a student I've used my parents' address for the bank, so I know that I don't have to give the bank the same address as where I live. I am however legally obliged to update my driving licence when I move house, and while the council agree that this is the case, they refuse to accept it as evidence of my address.

 

I am intending to resist supplying a bank statement unless they can demonstrably prove they have a legitimate need for it. However, the letter does threaten that if I do not supply the documents within 21 days my discount can be withdrawn, and withdrawn retrospectively.

 

Now, I have no intention to stop paying my council tax as that will just make the situation extremely messy, but of course, I only want to pay the tax that I am obliged to pay by law. I qualify for the single persons discount, so that is the amount I am happy to pay. My question is, if I only pay my monthly amount factoring in the 25% discount, in the event that the council attempt to charge me the full amount, is this an offence? I'm not sure if the discount as defined in law is statutory, or if there are any situations where the discount can be withdrawn for reasons other than not qualifying for the discount.

 

Sorry to have gone on a bit, but if anyone can help I'd be most grateful. I've searched for any relevant pre-existing threads but can't find any, but if one is out there a gentle nudge in the right direction would be well received.

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Welcome to the site.

If they withrdaw the discount,then they would issue you with an ammended bill which would show the amounts due for the account.

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Welcome to the site.

If they withrdaw the discount,then they would issue you with an ammended bill which would show the amounts due for the account.

 

Hi, and thanks for the welcome.

 

I appreciate that they will issue an amended bill and attempt to charge me the full amount without the discount. However, I'm unsure whether this actually means I am actually liable for the additional tax. The law defines criteria for qualifying for the single persons discount, and in that regard I qualify. But does the law also specify that I need to jump through the council's hoops as a criterion?

 

This isn't a case of me being unwilling to work with the council. It's an issue of me being unhappy with their flawed procedures that expose me to an increased risk of identity theft. To consider a rather contrived example, imagine I had a letter from the council that threatened to withdraw my discount unless I visited the council offices and punched a cake. I realised that is a very flippant example, and that any reasonable person would consider such a demand very unreasonable. Under such circumstances there is no way the council could legally withdraw this discount (and if someone tells me I'm wrong and the law is this loose then please, shoot me :wink: ). They could try to take it to court, but the judge would just laugh at them.

 

Hypothetically, if the council were to take me to court over this (and it isn't anywhere near that yet), I would argue that the checks they were proposing were unreasonable intrusive, and couldn't verify innocence (theoretically, dodgy dealings from a second account), and couldn't prove guilt unless I were dumb (and forgot to do dodgy dealings from a second account). I would also clearly state that I offered to work with the council by presenting legal identification I am obliged to keep current as demonstration of my address, and they refused. To me, this seems like a very reasonable approach to demonstrating my address.

 

I should also point out that this concerns me on a general level as well in terms of how the council is operating. There was an article in the local newspaper earlier this year where the council was boasting over having successfully caught around 300 people illegally claiming single persons discount. They claim that these checks are triggered as a result of an annual audit. I can't claim to know the exact figures involved, but if I start with the 300 prosecutions, and very generously assumed that from the point of sending out letters of the kind I received to when all cases were resolved, the council scored a 50% hit rate. I suspect this is overly generous, but I don't want to load the argument in my favour. Even if it is assume that the 300 prosecutions were purely for not sending in a statement, that leaves 300 people being exposed to intrusive checks and identity theft risks for no reason. I strongly suspect that the real hit rate is a lot lower, so the figure is going to be higher than 300. But to my mind, 300 people is 300 too many.

Edited by Dr Wadd
Correct a typo
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Yes, the council can withdraw the discount even if you do still live on your own. In fact they aren't even under any obligation to apply it in the first place, it has to be applied for. If they have reason to believe you aren't the sole adult then they can remove it to avoid the possibility of undercharging you. Example: each year my district sends out a review form to all residents in receipt of this discount; if they don't return the form then they get the discount removed.

 

Have the council stated what evidence they have to believe you aren't the sole adult? If you don't know what evidence they have then it might be a good idea to find out, because it could be something minor in which case they might not need statements from you to continue your discount.

 

You are completely correct that a bank statement or utility bill won't prove that you are the sole occupier! I understand your concerns about ID fraud if you've been a victim before, however you should be perfectly within your rights to blank out your bank details and transactions. All they need to see is your name and address, right? If you're the tenant then your tenancy agreement should suffice as that has to show all occupants IIRC. Alternatively you might be able to request that a visiting officer comes out to your house to see that it is just you living there, however you may find that too intrusive, but it's just a suggestion.

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Thanks for the information.

 

The council won't specifically tell me what they suspect, only that it is either that I don't live alone or that I that this is a second home, but not which one. They claim that part of their audit process is to run credit checks with Experian, and this is what raised a concern. I have ordered my statutory credit report so I can check it myself. I've had to have a credit report correct before due to it associating me financially with a random stranger as a result of ships passing in the night. If that is the case, a bank statement doesn't conclusively resolve anything there.

 

Another possibility is that a few months ago my partner (who I don't live with) was a few months in arrears with her council tax, went to a collections agency and she had to pay the amount in full immediately. She was able to borrow the cash, but to speed up payment to the collections agency she wanted to make a debit card payment. If she paid it in to her account some of it would have been eaten by an overdraft, so we paid it in to my account and I paid by my card. For this reason I can see that from that transaction the council may assume that I may be living with her, as it looks like I am paying her council tax. That line of thinking is quite reasonable, but again, a bank statement doesn't conclusively answer the question.

 

I can redact the information from my statement, but that still doesn't address the wider issue that I'm unhappy about the way the council is operating in a wider sense. I am a firm believer in the individuals right to privacy, and I am deeply opposed to overly-intrusive beauracracy. This issue concerns me not just on the level of the individual, but also for the general population. They operate on the basis of assuming that the public will blindly follow orders without questioning them when they are unreasonable, sadly a lot of people do, and end up being exposed to intrusion and risk. If the demands make sense then I have no problem. If I were applying for a means tested benefit then I'm happy to supply them, and if I'm not happy about posting them I can drop them off in person. I have absolutely no problem there.

 

I realise that this is a consumer rights forum and not the Socialist Worker, so I'm not seeking people to rise up with me in rebellion. :-) But if I can get a feel for what I can do to address this as an individual, then I know how far I can fight this. There's no sense in me backing myself in to a position where I face prosecution or baillifs, so I don't want to end up doing anything dumb.

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I understand where you're coming from. Funny that you don't have to provide this information to be given the discount but as soon as there is a query about it you do! I do find it a bit weird that they won't tell you what exactly information they have to suggest you aren't living along.

 

Tbh I think it's actually quite difficult in a lot of cases to concretely determine whether a person is living alone or not which is why they're asking for things which don't really prove this. I suspect that they have to show that they've contacted you regarding this matter, and they have to get some kind of documentary evidence - even if it doesn't make much sense - to prove that you are responsible for the property.

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Single Person Discount is notorious for fraud (not that I believe you to be committing fraud!). However, it seems that the council are not playing totally fair with you by not explaining what the information they hold that makes them assume you are not the sole occupant :???:

 

Things have moved on since I was a local taxation officer a few years ago and each council operates differently with regards the approach to collection and enforcement (witin the defined laws that relate to council tax).

 

I think if I were in your situation i would be asking my local councillor to act for you in approaching the council tax section to obtain the 'evidence' they hold regards your status. only with this info can you really move forward with proving your true sole occupancy.

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Contact your local Councillor and get them to help you sort this out. Details available either from the Council website or by telephone. In my view you can contact them 7 days a week up to approx 9pm.

 

You could also SAR your Council - many do this free of charge.

 

PT

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Thanks to everyone who has provided assistance.

 

I have now sent a letter to my councillor to see if he can intervene in this matter. Assuming I get a reply, I spoke to one the other day by telephone who couldn't take the details then but said he would call back shortly. I have not been called back. One is on holiday, and the last has an answerphone message stating that he can't come to the phone, and that it isn't possible to leave a message. Great service. Hopefully a letter sent through the council's web interface will get a response. Now I guess it is a case of seeing just how committed our local representatives are to representing their constituents.

 

Thanks again for all the advice.

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If your Councillors are unwilling or difficult to contact, approach the Leader of the Council and ask him/her to intervene. It is possible to play one political party off against another especially if you have also approached the local press.

 

PT

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