In Depth

Coronavirus: will council tax be scrapped?

Councils offer financial support to vulnerable families but won’t suspend payments

A petition calling for council tax payments to be suspended during the coronavirus outbreak has attracted nearly 100,000 signatures.

More than 95,000 people have so far supported the online call for government to require councils to suspend the payments and directly fund local government operations for the duration of the crisis.

“During the coronavirus outbreak it is important that people have money for essentials such as utilities and food,” said the petition’s creator Sherell Bayliss.

Will the petition work?

So far, there is no sign that council tax payments will be scrapped altogether during the outbreak.

However, the BBC reports that a number of councils across England will this week implement measures to help vulnerable people and those most affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The broadcaster quotes Chelmsford City Council as saying it would be impossible to keep public services going if relief was applied “across the board”.

Its leader, Councillor Stephen Robinson, said: “The vast majority of council tax is used to pay police officers and staff, firefighters, care home workers, home care providers, education support workers, and other staff who keep us all safe.”

What measures are being offered?

Annual council tax bills are normally paid in ten monthly instalments over the year, from April to January.

The Sun reports that Birmingham, Chelmsford, Rutland, Shropshire and Wiltshire councils are “among those offering residents until June to pay for their first instalment, while Derby is giving customers until May and Cheshire and Ealing have said they will allow deferrals up until July”.

Meanwhile, Ealing is extending the deferral period for a further three months for self-employed residents.

But the BBC notes that “not all councils are prepared to offer a deferred payment”, with Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, claiming it was “important to maintain Bristol City Council’s finances during the crisis”.

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The government previously announced a £500m Hardship Fund for local authorities to provide support to those struggling during the pandemic.

According to the Sun, the extra cash is being used to “further reduce council tax bills for households who receive Council Tax Support – knocking an extra £150 off bills for those most in need”, but it remains up to individual councils how they decide to use the cash “which has been confusing for households”.

The Local Government Association has advised residents to check their local council website to see whether they are eligible and if they need to apply directly.

The government announced that councils will also be able to use the funding to “provide further discretionary support to vulnerable people through other support arrangements such as Local Welfare Schemes”.

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Providing the necessary financial support to people and families is critical at this difficult time when many people will be concerned about changes to their income. That’s why we’re giving local councils an additional £500 million, to ensure help is available for the most vulnerable people in our society who are struggling to pay their council tax bills.

“The government is on your side and will do whatever takes to help.”

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