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Council Tax worriesThe situation regarding the Severely Mentally Impaired disregard and the backdating of applications has long been a point of dispute with local authorities, none less so than being ‘entitled to’ a qualifying state benefit. A recent High Court case has clarified this point.

What does ‘entitled to’ mean

For the purposes of the Severely Mentally Impaired disregard a person must, amongst other requirements, be ‘entitled to‘ a qualifying state benefit. Where the state benefit is not in payment a person must have been ‘entitled to‘ it for the period during which the party is attempting to claim a disregard.

Claims on the basis of a person being ‘entitled to‘ a qualifying state benefit have almost always resulted in a request to obtain proof from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). DWP will however not issue any evidence of entitlement unless a person was actually in receipt of the state benefit. This has left those without an actual claim struggling to obtain evidence.

It is on these grounds that a High Court appeal was launched against the decision of the Valuation Tribunal.

High Court clarification

The recent appeal to the High Court by Mr Brown on the meaning of ‘entitled to’ considered the background legislation on what counted as an ‘entitlement‘ to a state benefit.

For the purposes of the council tax disregard a person must meet the following condition

The condition prescribed for the purposes of paragraph 2(1)(c) of Schedule 1 to the Act is that the person in question is entitled to one of the qualifying benefits
With this criteria in mind the judge considered s1 of the of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 with regards to the qualifying benefits.

1. “Entitlement to benefit dependent on claim

(1) Except in such cases as may be prescribed, and subject to the following provisions of this section and to section 3 below, no person shall be entitled to any benefit unless, in addition to any other conditions relating to that benefit being satisfied—

(a) he makes a claim for it in the manner, and within the time, prescribed in relation to that benefit by regulations under this Part of this Act; or
(b) he is treated by virtue of such regulations as making a claim for it.

The attention of the judge was drawn to the effect of s1, that a person can only be entitled to the state benefit where they have either made a claim in a prescribed manner or they have been otherwise deemed to have done so. The judge held that there is a

“…fundamental statutory rule that a person is not entitled to a benefit until they have made a claim…”
It is this particular requirement,  that a claim must have been made (or deemed to have been made), which provides us with the correct answer for the purposes of a Severely Mentally Impaired disregard claim.

The judge held that a person can only be entitled to a qualifying benefit where the requirements of s1 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 has been met and a claim lodged (or deemed to have been lodged). The net result of this is that unless a person has made a claim for the benefit then they cannot be entitled to for the purposes of the council tax disregard.