Council tax reduction for pensioners: am I eligible and how to claim?

If you’re a pensioner, you may be able to get a council tax reduction. We explain how to find out if you qualify for a discount and how to make a claim.

Council tax helps pay for your local community services. This includes bin collections, maintaining street lights and looking after local parks. If you’re a pensioner, council tax can be a big monthly expense, as you don’t get an automatic reduction.

Not everyone pays the same with council tax, so it’s worth knowing how your council tax bill is calculated. The amount of council tax charged in your area will depend on which council tax band you fall under.

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Is council tax cheaper for pensioners?

There’s no blanket exemption from paying council tax for pensioners. However, depending on your financial circumstances and living situation, you may be able to claim a reduction. This can be up to 100% on your council tax bill.

Council tax reduction is also known as council tax support, and replaced council tax benefit back in 2013. It enables people living on a low income or claiming certain benefits to get help towards council tax bills.

If you claim Pension Credit, you can qualify for a council tax reduction. Pension Credit is a ‘top up’ benefit for those of state pension age and over who are on a low income. It unlocks a raft of benefits including the right to get a council tax reduction.

How much can I claim?

If you or your partner qualify for the ‘guarantee’ part of Pension Credit, your household can claim a reduction of up to 100% of your council tax bill. This could potentially be worth thousands of pounds, depending on the council tax band your property sits in.

Alternatively, if you or your partner claim the ‘savings’ element of Pension Credit, your household may be eligible for a reduction on your council tax bill. In this case, it’s unlikely to be the full amount.

The level of any council tax reduction you’re due will be decided by your local council, and as such will depend on where you live.

Even if you don’t claim Pension Credit, you may still be entitled to a council tax reduction.

If you live alone, under the single person council tax discount scheme you can get a reduction of 25%. This is available to anyone, regardless of their age, providing they live alone, or with a full-time carer who’s not their partner.

Students over 18 who are in full-time education can also claim a council tax exemption.

How far back can I claim?

Councils set their own rules on how far any claims for a council tax reduction can be backdated. In most cases with pension age claimants, payments are automatically backdated for three months from the date you claim.

This three-month limit applies providing you were of state pension age during this time. Otherwise any reduction will only be backdated to the date when you reached state pension age.

How do I apply for a council tax reduction?

You don’t get given a council tax reduction automatically, so will need to apply to your local council.  Once any reduction has been agreed, you should receive a revised council tax bill showing your new monthly payments. However, while you’re in the process of applying, you should still keep up your usual payments.

If you’re not sure which council area you live in, or can’t find your latest council tax bill, an easy way to find your local council is by using the postcode checker at GOV.UK.

This will bring up a link to your local council website, where you can search for the ‘council tax’ option.  You can then choose the option to apply for a council tax reduction.

Council tax exemptions in care homes and hospitals

If you live alone and move into a residential care home, nursing home or hospital for the long term, you can claim a council tax exemption if your home remains unoccupied while you’re there.

This exemption doesn’t apply in the event you go into a care home or hospital for a short period – say, for respite care, or while recovering from an operation or accident. In this case you would still have to continue paying your usual rate of council tax.

The exemption is not exclusive to pensioners, and any council tax exemption will need to be claimed from your local council.

In the event you move into a care home or hospital permanently, but your partner remains at your former main residence, they will be entitled to claim a single person discount of 25% on the council tax bill.

What should I do if my circumstances change?

If your circumstances change – for example, if your spouse or partner who claims the ‘guarantee’ element of Pension Credit passes away – you must tell your local council as soon as possible. In this case, you may no longer be entitled to a council tax reduction.

As with claiming any discount or reduction on council tax, if you don’t report any change of circumstances to your local council, usually within 21 days, you can run into legal hot water. 

You should also tell your local council if you move home, as you may be entitled to a refund if you have paid too much council tax. This is because council tax is usually split into 10 monthly payments, rather than 12.

You may also be due money back on your council tax when moving from a rental property.

You should be able to find a contact number on your council tax bill. Otherwise contact your local council through its website to report any changes in circumstances.