Will town halls be allowed 'widows tax'?


UK cash

Town councils are clearly desperate for money: and in their desperation they have called on the government to give them the power to decide who gets a discount on their council tax. Amongst other things this would give them the power to remove the single person discount. This would mean single people living alone - who are often widows - would be forced to pay hundreds of pounds more in council tax every year.

So why are they demanding such a draconian change, and who would be affected?

New powers

Each year the Local Government Association, which represents over 370 councils, takes part in discussions about the next spending round. As part of its submission this time it said: "the Government should grant councils the full and unconstrained ability to vary locally all council tax discounts, including the single person discount".

At the moment councils can set their own discounts for empty homes and second properties. However, there are certain things that are set by central government. This includes the discount available for single people, who receive a 25% discount on their council tax.

There are a number of people who do not count for council tax purposes, including children under 18, 18 and 19-year-olds in full time education, students, student nurses, people on apprentice schemes, live-in carers and people under 25 who get funding from the Skills Funding Agency or Young People's Learning Agency.

If discounting these people leaves one adult in the property, they get the 25% discount. If discounting all these categories leave no adults in the property, the discount is 50%.

It means an awful lot of vulnerable people fall into this category - including widows, single parents, and young people on low incomes striving to get into work. This is why it has been called the 'widows tax'.


The ability to remove the discount for these individuals looks like a draconian measure. There are serious questions to be asked as to whether they ought to be protected from councils casting around for new sources of income.

However, on the flip side, the councils themselves warn that without more income, they will have to dramatically slash services, which would hit vulnerable people particularly hard. Child services, help for the elderly and for carers: they are all in the firing line.

It seems these people are going to be squeezed one way or the other. But is this fair? Are these really the groups that ought to face the brunt of the spending squeeze?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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