Housing, Council Tax & Autism

Yesterday I attended another excellent “Post-Diagnostic Support Group” meeting in Crewe. One of the main topics regarded “Housing” and the differing needs which those of us on the spectrum required. One gentleman took the floor and shared his own difficult experiences with, what I believe is currently called “Community Care”.

Others shared some of their experiences, and a discussion ensued on where solutions may be sought to a variety of Housing problems. The National Autistic Society can be a valuable resource for information, and Axia’s “Self Proclaimed Nerd Consultant” Calvin quickly started searching their site. Dr. Buchan asked if I could put a link up on Axia’s website for people to be able to easily reference this material. Looking now, I see the NAS “Support Options” page goes into great detail on “Community Care” and the “Sources of Support”. Click here to read it.

That page is actually a sub-section of their “Benefits and community care” information page which can be found here.


During the discussion I perhaps took a slight tangent onto “Council Tax”, although still very much linked to the topic of housing, sharing my own experience. Briefly, it appeared someone changed some legislation at some point, and suddenly my local Council were claiming I must give them some of the money I receive as a “benefit” from the DWP. For 6 months I was in dispute with the Council, continually exchanging correspondence. This in itself MAY be important because I was not taken to Court in that time (despite a few perceived threats of such action), whilst I have heard of people finding themselves in Court after only 3 months of non-payment.

people-disregardedIt transpired that early in the exchange of paperwork, the Council had offered me a “solution” which I had not recognised, for reasons I think which will become clear. The document was entitled “Severely Mentally Impaired Disregard Claim Form” which superficially did not appear to apply to my Self. I’m not one of the “sharpest tools in the box” for sure, but “severely mentally impaired” appeared a little harsh an epithet. My curious nature and difficult circumstances led me to look at their Form again, carefully inspecting the wording… It turns out I AM, BY THEIR “LEGAL” DEFINITION!

When I first talked to my Psychiatrist about this following my diagnosis of ADHD, he appeared somewhat shocked saying something akin to “Oh no, Doctors don’t use that type of language”. He looked at the Council papers I’d handed him and the “Legal Definition” which I’d highlighted:

“Paragraph 2 (2) of Schedule 1 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 defines “Severely Mentally Impaired”. It states that “a person is severely mentally impaired if he/she has a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning (however caused) which appears to be permanent”.

My psychiatrist went to his computer for a few minutes, turned back to my papers again, understood and agreed with me, and asked me what I needed him to do. I explained that it appeared to me to function as follows:

  • The Council need a G.P. to sign and “rubber stamp” the Council Paperwork.
  • However a G.P. is unlikely to be able to “Diagnose” and therefore must “Refer”.
  • The Psychologist or Psychiatrist whom the Patient is referred to can then “Authorise” the G.P. to sign and stamp the Councils form.
  • The one other criteria was that I had to be receiving a “Benefit” from their list, which I was.

So my Psychiatrist sent both myself and my GP a letter stating he believed under the Council’s definition I qualified for the Council Tax exemption, I visited my GP who filled the form in for me so all I had to do was sign it, and then I posted it Recorded Delivery to the Council (having also taken the precaution of photocopying all the documents!). My own experience meant I would have done this anyway, but I found it quite interesting that my GP actually advised me to do so too, commenting on the amount of post which appears to go missing when dealing with the Council. It did not take long before I received a new Bill from the Council stating I was “Not Liable” for Council Tax, and the harassment I perceived I was experiencing from them ceased.

Having shared this story, I was approached in the break by a lady who lived with her recently diagnosed son. He’d ceased being a student so the Council were demanding his mother cease claiming the 25% discount and pay the full sum (if I recall correctly). The reason she’d approached me it seems is that it had entered her mind the possibility that “If he is not liable, perhaps my son is not liable, therefore it might be I can claim a discount”. Our chat was actually quite long, so I’ve just tried to distill her “querying thought” into what I interpreted she meant. As Council Tax is no longer a part of my life I’d not thought about it in a while, however the lady’s question was curious to me…

So to do my “due diligence” I visited our “Government” website to find out what THEY said, and I was a little surprised to discover their page https://www.gov.uk/council-tax/discounts-for-disabled-people which looks like this…

discounts-for-disabled-people

This implied to me the woman may well be right with her thought, and upon clicking the link “Who has to pay” https://www.gov.uk/council-tax/who-has-to-pay I again found myself surprised to see the below question “Who doesn’t count as an adult?”

This does raise some philosophical issues for me, perhaps I must be a very old child, granted license to “play”, I really don’t know. What I do know, is that there are many people on the Autistic Spectrum who are not aware that by “accepting a non-medical label” they may lessen their financial hardship if Council Tax plays a role. Dr. Buchan was already aware of this situation when I was reciting my story to her during my diagnosis process, and appeared eager for me to share it again on Axia’s website.

I hope the information and links above may be of some help to people.

Dream – Guest Contributor

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21 comments on “Housing, Council Tax & Autism
  1. Alexon says:

    I have just had a very similar experience, and am now defined as severely mentally impaired for council tax purposes.

    I would add the following to the post:-

    It appears in what I’ve read that you don’t have to be in receipt of the benefit, you just have to be entitled to it.

    Also the list of qualifying benefits is quite long and some councils have a very short list on their application form. If you feel you may be severely mentally impaired but not in receipt of a particular benefit, try a Google search for severe mental impairment council tax.
    You get to see the legislation and also the long list of qualifying benefits which some councils publish on their claim form.

    My council form said that it had to be signed by a registered medical practitioner, ( it did not say GP ) so I asked my psychiatrist and she signed it and put her hospital rubber stamp on it.

    I think it is very worthwhile claiming and not very well publicised.

    If your psychiatrist is sceptical , then google severe mental impairment Ireland Royal college of psychiatrists, as the Irish seem to have made good policy statements for definitions of intelligence.
    They are part of the British Royal college of psychiatrists, which is helpful.

    Good luck

  2. Linda Buchan says:

    Thank you for this helpful comment

  3. Nichola Ross says:

    my son is autistic and full time at university, and is currently paying a percentage of council tax. he will be 25 this year. should he be exempt from paying at all? i tried to find out on the site but couldn’t find anything to reflect this situation. i didn’t see anything for autism.
    many thanks,

    • Dream says:

      Dear Nichola, if your son has a medical diagnosis of autism, he can get the paperwork described in this article from his council and become exempt from Council Tax. Please don’t be put off by the words “severe mental impairment”, I think they may have chosen them to prevent people from claiming!

      • Nichola Ross says:

        ok, thank you very much for your advice. Because my son has autism, i would have ignored the words “severe mental impairment”. if anything they’re a really horrible way of naming any person.
        i’ll get on and phone them tomorrow, i find the info on the website too cluttered and confusing.
        many many thanks again!

        • Dream says:

          The gentleman who left the comment above these raised a good point about only having to be “eligible” for a benefit as opposed to actually “receiving” a benefit.

          I’ve also just been re-reading the article, and in the image where it says “people disregarded” it includes “students in full time education”, so it may be your son would qualify for that reason alone.

          I also know of a gentleman who was told by the council when phoning them that “you sound all right to me” (something I would have reacted VERY badly to, unless the council had started employing doctors to answer the phone!). However he found the form on his council website, filled it out and had it signed by his psychologist and stamped by his GP, sent it to the Council and became exempt.

    • Saleem says:

      My husband has autism with great difficulties I’ve helped him to keep his current job as a delivery driver, however totally disappointed with gp saying on form is not SMI as has a job.

  4. Dawn says:

    Hi I’m autistic and was told about the council tax exemption. I asked my doc who said get the forms from the council. The next day the docs very helpfully rang and told me I am eligible for a blue badge and a free bus pass. I rang the council for the form. The woman said ” the fact that you are talking to me on the phone means you don’t have severe mental impairment.” Because I rang on a good day. On a bad day I can’t use the phone. Where does this leave me?

    • Dream says:

      I am very sorry to hear about your treatment by the Council Dawn, I know someone who had a similar experience last year after phoning the Council to find out what to do with the form he’d had filled in by the doctors. He was told it was the wrong form because “it doesn’t sound like there’s anything wrong with you”.

      The first thing I would suggest is to put everything in writing, do NOT rely on what Council employees say on the phone (or anyone for that matter).

      Secondly, UNLESS the Council have started employing Doctors to answer the phone, how can they diagnose or know if you suffer “severe mental impairment”???

      I wrote on behalf of the gentleman who had been told the same thing, suggesting the Council were either incompetant, negligent or deliberately criminal. He received the full amount of Council Tax back from the date of the form being filled in.

      I don’t know what Council is your local authority, however here is a link to the Cheshire East version https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/PDF/SMI_Disregard_Form_v7.pdf

  5. Linda says:

    Thanks Dream I

  6. John Eaton says:

    This is an important area for many with Autism and I have experienced the same problems from both the GP and the Council.
    Autism is a hidden disability and as such must be massively caused under claiming of Rates reduction and PIP.
    It seems the definition of Severe Mental disability is different for the various Acts!
    Perhaps this could be better explained by the Councils when they write to the GPs.
    I feel this is deliberate to reduce the cost to them of this reduction!
    Perhaps the PIP should automatically qualify for the discount!

  7. Andrew A says:

    I was diagnosed with Autism last year. It was a huge relief and explained a lot about why I have struggled with certain aspects of my life.

    After reading this excellent article, I thought I would apply to my local council for the discount.

    The GP however doesn’t seem to agree. After reviving the paperwork from the council, they have responded that I am not SMI and as such I am not entitled to the council tax discount. Now at a total loss as what to do! Just as you think things are going to be easier after diagnosis, you find yourself having to fight for what is in essence an invisible condition.

    Has anyone else experienced this, and if so, how did you go about challenging the decission.

    • Dream says:

      Very sorry to hear of your circumstances Andrew. As I mention in the article above, my psychiatrist had not heard of this and was shocked at the term, however I pointed out it was legal terminology (which may be worded in such a way as to deter claimants despite fulfilling the legal criteria).

      In my experience of dealing with the Council, they need the correct paperwork, so it’s less of a case of “appealing” their decision, more providing the signatures and rubber stamps they need.

      All I can think of suggesting is downloading another copy of the council form for your area, filling all your parts, then sending that with an accompanying letter (recorded delivery) to your GP arguing your case that you DO fulfil the legal definition, which is NOT medical.

      I do know of one medical practice which failed to return the form, so the person wrote to their psychologist who’d diagnosed them, and they were happy to sign and stamp the councils paperwork, which when returned to the council with an accompanying letter instigated the council to grant an exemption.

      Hope that helps.

      • Andrew A says:

        Thanks for your reply,

        Could I just ask, when you say arguing the case of the legal definition, which is NOT medical, what do you mean by it not being medical.

        • Dream says:

          Sorry for my lack of clarity. In the “common parlance” (everyday speech), I might say “Your hat looks cool”, but scientifically speaking, my comment has nothing to do with temperature.

          My personal opinion is that some doctors may not realise the language they are seeing is “Legalese” (uses different dictionaries), which has a DIFFERENT definition than their own medical language, and therefor they misunderstand because they are interpreting “severely mentally impaired” medically, not legally. This is why I highlighted the “legal definition” in the article because I believe my autism fulfils their legal criteria.

          I hope that helps express my perspective more clearly.

          • Andrew says:

            Thankyou for that, it’s cleared up the confusion.

            In what ways would you say that Autism fulfils the legal definition? I’m struggling to actually find a legal definition of ASD other than the medical definitions.

  8. Kae Fairhill says:

    This link has some good info for you regarding SMI. It gives you links to qualifying benefits etc.

    https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/reclaim/severe-mental-impairment-dementia-council-tax-rebate/#benefits

  9. Dream says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I’m not a doctor or lawyer I’m afraid, so I can’t really answer your question. I can only speak from my experience, and as I pointed out in my article, the Council OFFERED me the paperwork, which I had initially dismissed due to the wording.

    However, I was born autistic and will die autistic, so that’s permanent. My autism means I think differently, and my social functioning is severely impaired, so I can’t see how I don’t fit the “Legal Criteria” of SMI.

    • Andrew says:

      Thankyou for your reply,

      I’ve spoken to my GP who is still refusing to sign the paperwork. Apparently the fact that I could argue my case is evidence enough that I am not SMI.

      The Dr also said they have looked at the councils website and I do not meet their definition of SMI as its only for people with Alzehimers etc. I’m now at a total loss, this is not an easy thing to obtain!

      • Dream says:

        Very sorry to hear of your predicament Andrew. All I can suggest is going directly to the person / company who diagnosed you as they are much more likely to have an understanding than a GP.

  10. Bertie says:

    I read this post with interest. The legal definition of “a person is severely mentally impaired if he has a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning (however caused) which appears to be permanent.” is subjective. I don’t know if there is an official guide for doctors to refer to, to help them determine whether or not someone is SMI. It would be interesting to confirm whether or not such a guide exists. Anyway, I see that your psychiatrist agreed that, in your case, the particulars of your ADHD reached this bar. Without sharing more than you are comfortable with, would you mind expanding on what aspects of your ADHD your psychiatrist thought qualify you for the legal test?

    Do you think that if one has been awarded PIP and has been scored 4 points under the “Engaging with people face to face” activity, that this by itself is likely to satisfy the legal definition?

    Many thanks.

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