Reform of the council tax benefit system could cut council tax bills for up to one in three households and give greater financial support to six million people who live in poverty, a report says.
The study, commissioned by the Local Government Association, calls for changes to allow more people to claim reductions in council tax and for more measures to encourage people to apply for the£1.8bn that goes unclaimed every year.
'Many not claiming benefit entitlement'
Around one in three households are entitled to council tax reductions, but many are unaware they are entitled to the benefit. Six million people in poverty live in homes which pay full council tax.
The report also highlights failings in the system which mean many people are unable to claim as much as they should. It points out that people who receive working tax credit almost always lose council tax benefit and highlights the fact that claimants start losing council tax reductions even before they begin to pay income tax.
The report, Council tax benefit and what to do about it, calls for:
The level of income at which people start to lose council tax reductions to be increased
People with greater savings to be allowed to claim council tax reductions
Changes to stop working tax credit and council tax benefit cancelling each other out
More measures to help eligible households apply, including a publicity campaign to encourage take-up of benefits, in particular among pensioners
'System failing vulnerable'
LGA vice-chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab) said: "The system has been failing society's most vulnerable for too long. Root and branch reform is sorely needed.
"An eye-watering£1.8bn goes unclaimed every year. Part of the problem with take-up is that benefit is wrongly seen as something only for the very poor. Around one in three households are eligible and many are simply unaware that they can get help with their council tax bills.
"One-and-a-half million children and one million pensioners in poverty are living in households that pay full council tax. Physically going to people's homes and helping them to apply is just as important as publicity campaigns."
He added: "The question of take-up is only part of the problem. This report highlights serious structural shortcomings with the system. Council tax benefit should be seen as a tax allowance not a handout. The process desperately needs to be simplified and the financial limits on eligibility increased."