The cost of living is undoubtedly rising. With food prices increasing by 20% and an average energy price increase of £693, many, especially students, are feeling the pinch. Thankfully, there is one particular government scheme to support lower-income households that a large proportion of students are eligible for. Unfortunately, finding out about this, and accessing the financial support you are entitled to, has been made as difficult as possible.
Houses in council tax bands A-D are eligible for a council tax rebate of £150 from the council constituency they were resident in on 1st April 2022. This money does not have to be repaid at any point, as it is intended to offset some of the financial damage caused by rising energy prices. You might not be aware that students are eligible. Despite initially excluding students due to their council-tax exemption status, push-back from campaigners highlighting the severely detrimental effect that the rising cost of living has on student finances has caused the scheme has been extended to include student houses.
There are terms and conditions of increasingly complicated wording; to be eligible, students must live in a property that isn’t an ‘HMOs for council tax purposes. This council tax definition of an HMO differs from the housing act definition. It distinguishes between whether you are a licensee of part of the property or the whole property and whether you are equally liable for council tax as your housemates. What this means in practice is that as long as you and your housemates have signed a contract together, rather than separately, and have an equal right to the whole property, rather than just your room, you are eligible, as you would be the one responsible for the council tax in the event you were not a student.
I shouldn’t be the one explaining this. That should be the job of the letters sent out by the council to eligible households, informing them how to claim their much needed £150 towards the rising cost of living. The problem is, due to council delays, these letters are yet to be seen by the students of Durham. A roll-out meant to be completed by the end of May has now been delayed until the end of June. As students are such a complicated group to assess eligibility for, I worry they will be waiting far longer. Thanks to being an afterthought to Durham County Council, students are being left behind.
As I have written, the Durham housing market is a strange beast. It is cyclical, with most tenancies turning over in a mass exodus at the end of June. As such, these letters will likely never reach their intended recipients, and you may not get the money you deserve. If notes are going to houses that have been vacated or handed over to new tenants, students may never know they are owed money.
The delay is costing students money in real terms, and the council either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. The level of research it has taken to determine if I am even entitled to this rebate, let alone how to obtain it, has been immense. It is far harder for students who work alongside their studies, are bogged down with exams, or have other constraints on their time. We shouldn’t work so hard to get the support we need and are entitled to. Our housing costs in Durham are already ridiculously high, and as usual, lower-income students are most likely to lose out.
Your council owes you a council tax rebate. Now you know, and you should do something about it.
Image: David Dixon via Creative Commons.