If your home has been flooded, or if your home has been unable to access council services because of flooding, you may be entitled to claim a discretionary reduction covering part, or all, of your Council Tax.
The best kept secret in council tax law
One of the best-kept secrets in council tax law (most lawyers and advisers have never heard of it!) is that your council has a special power to reduce your council tax bill.
If you live in England and Wales, your local council has a discretionary power to reduce your council tax. This is available to help people and may be granted on top of any existing reduction or help you may already receive. However, it’s not being widely publicised.
Under section 13A(1)(c) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, your local council has the power to reduce your council tax bill by any amount. It can give you a bigger discount, reduce the bill in part or completely write-off your council tax for any period.
You may apply for a discretionary reduction if you are suffering financial hardship, or if there is any reason why you are having difficulty in paying your council tax, or because of events – such as flooding – which result in you being unable access council services. It may also be available where the value of your home has been seriously affected by external events or where you are unable to occupy it.
The special discretionary power to reduce council tax was originally introduced in 2003 to help people affected by floods. It has been used for many different situations and problems. It is available on top of any existing reduction or discount you may have received or be already receiving.
How do I apply for a discretionary reduction?
You must apply in writing. Download and use this letter: Download a pro-forma section 13a letter to claim because of floods. Keep a copy of your letter and note the date you sent it. 
When can section 13A(1)(c) power be used?
The power can potentially be used in any situation where a person has difficulty paying council tax. It is available to help anyone who is responsible for a council tax bill. The law  does not impose restrictions on how councils may use their discretionary reduction powers providing they act reasonably.
What does discretionary mean?
It means the reduction is not automatic: the council must look at each case on its merits when making a decision; the council must act also reasonably when making a decision and consider all the facts and circumstances of your case.
What information should I give?
Giving as much information as possible with your application will strengthen your case for receiving a reduction. You can include details about your finances, any special problems and medical conditions, or details of why you may not be able to occupy your home (e.g because of flood or storm damage). If a charity or a voluntary organisation is helping you, they may be able to write a letter in support of your application.
What sort of evidence should I include?
You can include all kinds of evidence to back up your application. Basically, any form of document or evidence can be used. If your home has suffered damage by flooding or storms, you can include photographs, reports from surveyors or letters from neighbours. If you are applying on grounds of hardship, you should include details of your financial circumstances; details of income and expenditure; and copies of relevant letters and correspondence from the DWP or pension providers. If you suffer from a medical condition or disability, you can include letters from GPs or hospitals, copies of prescriptions, or letters from carers, support workers or charities.
Evidence could include:
- Your statement in writing – what has happened
- Statements of people who have visited your property
- Photographs 
- Evidence from surveyors
- Receipts and extra bills and expenses
- Letters in support from neighbours
- Letters in support from charities and other professionals who are helping you
What if the council refuses a discretionary reduction?
You have a right of appeal against the Council’s decision to refuse a discretionary payment.
How long does the council have to decide?
They must get back to you with a decision within eight weeks of your application.
What situations have councils reduced council tax bills in the past?
In the past, councils have granted discretionary reductions and sometimes property discounts for certain groups of people with particular issues or problems including:
- Financial hardship
- People affected by flooding, storm damage, fire so they cannot occupy their homes
- Loss of benefits or any period when no benefit is available
- People who fall outside rules on exemption (e.g., some students)
- Where you application for a reduction was prevented by circumstances beyond your control
- People who have been victims of crime or theft;
- People living in hard-to-sell property
- Newly unfurnished property
- Property affected by a wind turbine
- Occupied and unoccupied property without the benefit of mains services (e.g., beach chalets)
- Cases where the Council has failed to sort out your council tax reduction properly and a debt has arisen
- Arrears of council from a previous year which you cannot afford
- If the council has improperly made a liability against you
- Problems with a chalk mine near a home
- Property that is no one’s sole or main residence and with restricted access
- Cases of single occupiers called up for 28 days or more as members of the reserve forces
- Taxpayers who cannot comply with the council’s mooring policy on houseboats
- Members of the Royal Air Force whose redundancy was delayed because of events abroad.
What should I do if I do not get a reply?
You should contact the Council and find out why they did not reply. You may also put in an appeal against the failure to consider your application. This appeal is to a valuation tribunal. You can also make a formal complaint against the Council if they fail to reply in eight weeks.
Who should I contact if I get no reply ?
As well as contacting the council tax department, it can be a good idea to contact the chief executive to the council and ask why no decision has been made. You should ask for a decision, particularly as in some local authorities decisions under section 13A(1)(c) are made at senior level.
Where do I appeal?
A right of appeal lies on a point of law to the Valuation Tribunal of England, or the Valuation Tribunal of Wales, where a local authority refuses to award a discretionary reduction. This appeal is under section 16 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. For details of the Valuation Tribunal go to http://www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk/Council_Tax.aspx
What can you appeal on over a discretionary reduction?
The appeal is considered as “an appeal on a point of law”.
What would be an appeal on a point of law?
Grounds for making an appeal to the valuation tribunal would include:
- The council discriminates against you
- The council does not give reasons for refusing your application
- The council makes a serious mistake about the facts of your case
- The council makes an unreasonable decision
- The council gives a silly reason for refusing you (e.g. You had a Sky television subscription) and ignores all other facts
- The council has a blanket policy of rejecting all applications.
Tribunal members can also visit premises if there is a dispute and examine physical evidence of harm that affects the value of a property.
What if the Council takes me to court in the meantime ?
If the council issues a summons to court for failure to pay council tax before the council has decided your application for a discretionary reduction, you should go to the court and ask for an adjournment. The court may agree to adjourn the case until the application has been decided. TAKE A COPY OF YOUR LETTER TO THE COURT. If the council agrees to an adjournment with you outside the court, get a copy of this in writing. If the council does not agree, show your letter of application to the magistrates. Ultimately, it is the magistrates who decide whether a case is adjourned, not the council.
IF YOU DO NOT DO THIS, THE COURT WILL MAKE A LIABILITY ORDER WITH COSTS AGAINST YOU.
What if a bailiff calls?
If the council sends a bailiff to you who calls or contacts you at home before the council has decided your application for a discretionary reduction, you should tell the bailiff you have an outstanding application. You should demand to see the copy of any liability order the bailiff claims to have – there may be nothing to show that any order has been made.
You should tell the bailiff to go back to the council to get further instructions. Do not let the bailiff in or they will try to seize goods. You should contact the council about the visit of the bailiff and be prepared to make a formal complaint – a council should determine your application for a discretionary reduction before taking enforcement action.
1 Some local councils may have a form to make an application for a discretionary reduction which they should supply free to you. [Back]
2 Section 13A Local Government Finance Act 1992 as amended by the Local Government Finance Act 2012. [Back]
3 You can include photographs of any damage to your property or roads that are blocked or affected. If your goods (carpets, for instance) have been damaged, pictures of the damage is also useful as evidence in support of your council tax reduction claim even if you do not have insurance. [Back]