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Wales promotes council tax discounts for mentally impaired

Pat Hughes
Image caption Mrs Hughes has suffered from dementia since 2014

The Welsh Government is making it easier for those living with severe mental impairments to get big discounts and rebates on their council tax bills.

The move follows a long campaign by consumer website MoneySavingExpert.

It's helped Sian Higginson and her 88-year-old mother, Pat Hughes, who suffers from dementia.

After a chance chat with the local Citizens Advice in Denbigh, they found they were entitled to a save thousands of pounds.

"I really wasn't aware there was help," said Ms Higginson.

Over the last few years the family have had to step in more and more to help Mrs Hughes, including taking power of attorney over her finances, but it has been a challenge.

"After diagnosis you need to be one step ahead of the game. It's hard," says Mrs Higginson.

Mrs Hughes now pays no council tax at all to Denbighshire Council.

Moreover, as Mrs Hughes was diagnosed in 2015, she is entitled to backdate her claim - meaning a much-needed £4,000 boost to help pay for the extra care she needs, and enabling her to stay in her own home.

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Council tax discounts for the Severely Mentally Impaired (SMI) were introduced across England, Scotland and Wales as long ago as 1992.

But lack of promotion by councils and irregular policies from postcode to postcode mean that tens of thousands of people who are eligible are not benefitting - according to campaign website MoneySavingExpert.

Now the Welsh Government has become the first to standardise the information it gives about the rebates and to offer one simple application form across all its 22 local councils.

Anyone entitled to the discount in Wales will be able to backdate the rebate to the date they received their diagnosis.

What is the severe mentally impaired discount?

A "severely mentally impaired" person is defined as someone living with a severe impairment of intellectual and social functioning, which appears to be permanent - such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, learning difficulties or following a stroke.

To claim the SMI discount, they need to be certified as being SMI by their doctor, and also be eligible for one of a range of benefits, such as incapacity or attendance allowance or universal credit.

If both apply, this will mean a 25% council tax discount if they live with another person or exempt the person entirely if they live alone.

For Mrs Higginson and her mother it was a chance chat that made them realise they were missing out on the discount, but they said the Welsh government's approach had made it straightforward to make the claim.

"The form was really easy and it's going to be a huge benefit," explained Ms Higginson.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

"Most councils haven't helped spread the word, and disgracefully have often hindered people claiming by giving out misinformation, meaning they've missed out on money that could've transformed their quality of life," said MSE founder Martin Lewis.

In England The Local Government Association said local authorities should "support those who meet the eligibility criteria".

Scottish local government body COSLA said: "Scottish councils seek to ensure that those entitled are aware of this discount. Where best practice can help then this is actively being shared to ensure that there is consistency across councils."

Councillor Mary Sherwood, from the Welsh Local Government Association said the new measures in Wales meant that everyone would receive "a consistent level of support" across all local authorities.

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