Council to start checks on residents’ entitlement to council tax single person discount

Genuine recipients will have nothing to fear says the council

The Audit Commission has identified that council tax discounts are nationally the second highest area of fraud and error, behind welfare benefits. It has estimated that nationally £19.6 million is lost each year in incorrectly applied discounts.

As part of East Devon District Council’s measures to prevent and detect fraud and protect the public purse, it is carrying out checks using sophisticated data-matching technology to make sure that residents who currently receive a 25 per cent single person discount are still entitled to it.

Each year £7.7 million is awarded to residents in East Devon receiving a single person council tax discount and this equates to an average reduction of £375 per year. Based on Audit Commission research up to 5% of these discounts may be incorrectly claimed and in East Devon this could equate to up to £385,000 each year.

The review is being jointly funded by East Devon District Council, Devon County Council, Devon & Cornwall Police and Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Authority, which is where council tax goes.
The council will be working with a firm of data solutions specialists (Datatank) to carry out the review of around 21,000 households to see if the person is genuinely living alone, by cross-referencing with other sources of information about their household such as, but not limited to, the electoral-roll registers and financial sector information.

The review process will be carried out between June and October 2015, during which time the council will be validating single person discount claims. As part of the review process the council will be contacting by letter and/or telephone, only those households identified through the data matching process where there may potentially be other persons resident.  Anyone failing to respond to requests for information in relation to their claim will have their discount withdrawn.

Taxpayers legal duty

Councillor Ian Thomas, the Portfolio holder for Finance, said:

I would like to stress that anyone genuinely claiming a reduction has nothing to worry about, but anyone found to be deliberately misleading us could face a penalty of £70, as well as having to repay the discount.

Council taxpayers who claim the discount improperly place an unnecessary burden on the very real needs of some residents and it is important that we take this type of misinformation very seriously. It is a legal duty for council taxpayers to let the council know of any changes to their single occupancy circumstances.

Last year the council undertook a trial review by checking around 2,000 households, which led to 75 discounts being removed, equating to £25,000 per year additional council tax income. This review will enable us to ensure that our continued approach to the single person discount review process is robust, fair and cost effective.

I would urge people to respond as quickly as possible to the letters we are sending out to reduce the chance of their having the discount removed, together with receiving a large backdated bill.

Anyone who is claiming the discount and whose circumstances have changed is urged to contact the council immediately by telephoning 01395 517446.