People facing difficulties with paying their council tax are being urged to check what support they may be entitled to.
Middlesbrough Council has a range of approaches to help residents bring their accounts up to date.
The Council is aware that the Covid-19 pandemic is having a serious impact on people's finances.
At the same time, the Council is stressing the importance of accounts being kept up to date. Council tax funds provide vital and essential local services including adult and children's social care.
People who have received reminders or other letters for late payments are urged to consider the following nine options for support. The Council is committed to helping you get back on track. The Council is also committed to collecting essential funds.
It is important to note, that unresolved accounts may lead to further action such as enforcement. Although this is a last resort it can lead to serious consequences and significantly increase the amount you have to pay.
1. Department for Work and Pensions benefits
Make sure you've claimed all the benefits and support you're entitled to. For working-age families this could include: Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, or Statutory Sick Pay from the Department for Work and Pensions. Citizens Advice can help you find out which benefits you're entitled to.
2. Council Tax Reduction
Claiming Council Tax Reduction helps reduce the amount of Council Tax you need to pay. Both working-age people and pensioners can claim Council Tax Reduction. The discount you'll get will depend on your income and the size of your household.
Even if you can only get a small discount it's still important to claim it. Recent government grants like the Covid Local Support Grant, which was paid out by the council, are automatically linked to Council Tax Reduction.
If you're currently in education, you may be eligible for a student exemption on your Council Tax bill. You can apply for a student exemption online. You'll need to complete the application form and provide a copy of your updated student certificate, which you can get from your education provider.
4. Reduce your bills by paying over a longer period
You should pay your Council Tax instalments for the current year on time. If you're struggling with this, we may be able to give you more time to pay - this is called an extended payment plan. If you'd like to talk to us about an extended payment plan, please get in touch using the Revenues general enquiry form.
If you're currently paying your Council Tax over 10 months, we can change it so you pay over 12 months for your 2022/2023 Council Tax instead. This means your monthly payments would be lower. If you'd like to talk to us about paying over 12 months, please get in touch using the Revenues general enquiry form.
5. Financial support - Household Support Fund and money health check
Call us on 01642 726006 and one of our caseworkers will carry out a 'health check' on your account to help us understand how we can support you with your Council Tax. This may include discounts like Single Person Discount.
You may also be able to get help through the Household Support Fund. This is funding from the Department for Work and Pensions to help support those most in need. It can be used for food, energy, and water bills. The funding is available until 31 March 2022. You can apply for the Household Support Fund online.
6. If you're not currently paying your Council Tax
If you're struggling to make your payments, or not paying at all, please fill in our online budget sheet. We can look at your circumstances and talk to you about repayment plans to help you get back on track.
7. If you're currently self-isolating
If you're self-isolating and you cannot leave the house to pay your Council Tax via PayPoint, there are other ways to pay. Find out more about how to pay Council Tax. Alternatively, you can contact one of our caseworkers on 01642 726006 and we'll help you with your payment.
If your income has been affected because you're self-isolating, you may be eligible for a £500 Test and Trace Self-Isolation Support Payment. You can apply for the Self-Isolation Support Payment online.
8. Council Tax arrears (debts) from previous years
If you're in Council Tax debt from previous years, we may be able to create an affordable payment plan, specific to your needs. You'll pay in agreed instalments (weekly, fortnightly, or monthly) over an appropriate period of time. Please call us on 01642 726006 to discuss your account with one of our caseworkers.
If you're experiencing exceptional hardship, whether it's because of coronavirus or for another reason, you might be able to get a Crisis Award to help you with food, essential clothing, or energy bills. You can find out more on the Community Support Scheme page.
A Middlesbrough Council spokesman said: "If you are struggling to pay your council tax, there is support available and our caseworkers are available to advise you. We understand that debts can be difficult to face once they start to mount up, and it can feel daunting to get in touch about them. We are here to help you.
"We are committed to supporting residents and businesses to address payment problems, and enforcement is always a last resort.
"When further action becomes necessary, wherever possible we will set up repayment arrangements, or use other means to recover amounts due.
"Only when all other approaches have failed, we will be sending some cases to the bailiffs."