North Yorkshire campaigner fights for council tax law change after wife's dementia diagnosis

A campaigner from North Yorkshire is fighting for a change in the law to how council tax discounts affect people with dementia.

Derek Brown, 71, is the full-time carer for his wife Margaret, 81, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2018. Photo: Derek Brown

Derek Brown, 71, is the full-time carer for his wife Margaret, 81, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2018.

He only found out he was entitled to a council tax discount by chance from a nurse during a routine appointment.

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But when he applied for a back-dated discount to the point of his wife’s diagnosis, he found he was only able to claim the discount from the day he was approved for another carer’s benefit known as Attendance Allowance, worth up to £89.60 a week.

This benefit is only able to be granted to people six months after care is first required for them, and it is up to individual councils to decide if they will honour backdated claims for council tax discount, most commonly worth 25 per cent, to the point of diagnosis instead.

After researching, Mr Brown found that 255 councils in the country only backdate to the point of the benefit being received, which he estimates could leave up 13,000 families in Yorkshire and the Humber worse off.

Some 14 of Yorkshire and the Humber’s local authorities only offer a backdated discount from when Attendance Allowance is granted, compared to seven which offer it from the point of diagnosis.

Mr Brown, who lives in Northallerton and is retired, took Hambleton District Council to the High Court with his claim, but a judge found the council were complying with the law although he was not ordered to pay court costs.

He has now launched a petition for a national change in law for all councils to backdate the tax discount to the point of diagnosis, backed by the Alzheimer’s Society.

The petition needs 10,000 signatures by September to gain a Government response.

Mr Brown said he is fighting for the change on behalf of other families and of his wife, 81, who he described as his lifelong confidante.

He said: “When I went to the tribunal, I’d prepared Freedom of Information requests on what each council was doing.

“I was fighting the existing laws, and the existing laws were against me.

“I’m not interested in the money, but when you go to carers’ meetings, you realise no one is listening to carers and people with dementia.

“For the grassroots people out there, no one listens to them.

A Hambleton District Council spokesperson said: “Council tax discounts for people living with dementia is legislative. We are entirely satisfied Hambleton residents are assessed correctly in line with this legislation.”

Gavin Terry, head of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It’s absolutely criminal that people with dementia aren’t getting the financial help they are entitled to.

“As it stands, people with severe dementia are eligible for discounts or even exemptions on their council tax, but we know from talking to people affected by dementia that they often aren’t aware of these crucial entitlements.

“What is even more confusing, is that some local authorities are not backdating the discount to the point at which a person is certified as having severe dementia, while others are – this is unfair, and this is what Derek’s campaign is seeking to change.”

The Department of Work and Pensions was approached for comment.

Derek's petition can be signed at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/572993.