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Council Tax Benefit

Volume 497: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009

The Petition of members of The Royal British Legion and others,

Declares that some 25,000 signatures were added to a petition delivered to Number 10 Downing Street in support of Council Tax Benefit being rebranded as a rebate; further declares that over a third of veterans and their dependents over 65 live on an income below the minimum required for healthy living and that Council Tax bills are probably the largest household expense for this age group; notes that uptake amongst pensioners of Council Tax Benefit has dropped sharply since the abolition of the old domestic rates system’s rebate and that £1.5 billion of Council Tax Benefit is left unclaimed by pensioners each year; further notes that more than half of the ex-Service community think veterans would be more likely to claim Council Tax Benefit if it was known as a rebate.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to commit now to rebranding Council Tax Benefit as a rebate before the time of the next general election.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Paul Burstow, Official Report, 21 May 2009; Vol. 492, c. 1704.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, received 12 August 2009:

Improving Council Tax Benefit take-up for pensioners is a key priority for the Department and we are taking active measures, working with local authorities, to ensure people understand, and are encouraged to claim their entitlement.

For example we have made considerable effort to make the claims process easier and change was made last November allowing pensioners to claim Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit in a single telephone call at the same time as Pension Credit. We are waiting to see the results of that important initiative.

Even so, the take-up of Council Tax Benefit is disappointingly low and around 10 per cent of pensioners in poverty, or 200,000 people, are there because they do not take-up the benefit. The most recent figures for 2007-08 show that around 62 per cent to 68 per cent of all those whom we believe to be entitled to claim council tax benefit actually do so—the percentage for pensioners is smaller.

We accept that we must do more to remedy the situation and have been impressed with the case made by the Royal British Legion that the name “Council Tax Benefit” is an obstacle to claiming. In recent weeks, the Department has liaised with the Royal British Legion over what can be done in the short term in partnership with local authorities to help them re-market Council Tax Benefit as part of their work to promote benefit take-up.

The Government acknowledge that renaming Council Tax Benefit to reflect its true nature as a tax rebate may encourage more people to claim their entitlement. This is something that we believe is worth doing and we will consider carefully the case for making the change when Parliamentary time and resources allow.