Hartlepool Borough Council offers amnesty to people wrongly claiming council tax discount

Local authority chiefs are to have an "amnesty" as part of plans to reduce council tax fraud and save an estimated £150,000.
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The work by Hartlepool Borough Council will look at targeting the numbers of people either intentionally or unintentionally claiming single person discount on their council tax bills.

The discount provides a 25% reduction to households and is available if only one person 18 years or over lives at a property as their sole or main residence.

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It can also be claimed where there where one of two adults living at a property is disregarded for council tax, for example as a full-time student.

Hartlepool Borough Council is cracking down on incorrect council tax discount claims.Hartlepool Borough Council is cracking down on incorrect council tax discount claims.
Hartlepool Borough Council is cracking down on incorrect council tax discount claims.

After initially being approved earlier this month as part of budget plans for 2024-25, councillors at the latest finance and policy committee meeting supported bringing in a new sanction and prosecution policy over the issue.

Officers said this will provide “a more robust approach to tackling single person discount fraud”.

Measures to be put in place will include an awareness campaign during March and an “initial amnesty” period up to May 1 for anyone who wishes to correct their record.

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This means the council will not seek to prosecute anyone who comes forward before this date.

However they will back date any changes to when a single person discount was no longer applicable.

Other steps will include making applying for the discount “more appropriate” to ensure residents better understand their responsibilities.

James Magog, director of finance, IT and digital, said: “Fraud is never acceptable, therefore we are planning for a number of measures to try and address this.

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“We are dedicating a team member to tackle fraud and in doing so will look to prosecute if we can prove dishonesty.”

Current single person discount figures for Hartlepool, as of December 2023, are 17,400 or 39% of chargeable properties, which is above the national average of 34% and represents a 2,000 increase over five years.

Council chiefs noted if 10% of all single person discounts were found to be intentionally or unintentionally fraudulent, as suggested by a national survey, this could amount to £500,000 of lost revenue.

They added, as it is unclear what the rate is in Hartlepool, the initial target will be to provide a £150,000 saving in 2024-25, which would represent a reduction of around 400 cases.