MILLIONS of households will be hit with a council tax increase of up to 4.99 per cent this April – but there are ways to cut costs now.
Local authorities are allowed to hike council tax bills by up to 4.99 per cent in the 2019/20 financial year.
That’s made up of 2.99 per cent for the general local authority budget and a further 2 per cent which must be allocated to social care.
It will see the UK average annual Band D bill – the most common band to be in – rise by £107 to £1,778, which is 25 per cent higher than a decade ago.
Last year (the 2018/19 tax year), council tax bills went up by an average of £81 as councils increased the bills by 5.1 per cent.
But some 400,000 households may be in the wrong council tax band to begin with, according to the Money Advice Service.
And if you’re in the wrong band, you might be owed money. Here’s what you need to know.
What are the council tax bands in England, Scotland and Wales and how can I check mine?
Council tax bands are based on how much your property was worth on:
- 1 April 1991, for England and Scotland
- 1 April 2003, for Wales
Council tax is different in Northern Ireland, so this information is only for homes in England, Scotland and Wales.
Band A represents the lowest value of a home, while band H in England and Scotland and band I in Wales represents the highest value.
You can check your council tax band here, but a £300,000 house in England or Wales, for instance, would be in band G while in Scotland it would be in band H.
The problem is that when the council tax system was brought in, the Government didn’t have time to get detailed information about each home in the UK.
So the people it hired to do the valuations ended up allocating each property a band “with just a glance”, according to MoneySavingExpert.com.
The consumer website said: “They became known as ‘second-gear valuations’ as they mostly never even stopped their cars, never mind got out of them.”
This is why thousands of homes across the UK could be in the wrong council tax band, and paying the incorrect amount.
Is anyone exempt from paying council tax?
IF you are over the age of 18 and either own or rent your own home, you must pay council tax.
But if you live on your own, or only live with a child and no other adult, you can get 25 per cent off your bill.
You’ll usually get a 50 per cent discount if no-one living in your home, including you, counts as an adult.
Full-time students and apprentices don’t have to pay any council tax.
People with a severe mental disability are also exempt, as are people who are caring for someone with a disability who is not a spouse, partner, or child under 18.
Councils can give furnished second homes or holiday homes a discount of up to 50 per cent.
You’ll usually have to pay council tax on an empty home, but your council can decide to give you a discount.
How can I claim a refund?
If you’re in the wrong council band, you could get hundreds of pounds back, and you might even get repayments backdated to when you first moved into the property.
In May 2018, it was revealed that tens of thousands of people in the UK could be due a refund on their council tax, according to MoneySavingExpert.com.
The site’s investigation found that some of those affected were in the wrong tax band while others were entitled to a full council tax refund due to having a severe mental impairment.
If a doctor has certified that someone has a permanent condition, such as Alzheimer’s, parkinsons or a severe learning difficulty that hinders their intelligence or social functioning, they have a legal right to have some or all of their council tax refunded.
If you live on your own and have a severe mental impairment you don’t have to pay council tax and you can claim any council tax back that you have paid while you were living alone.
You are entitled to a 25 per cent discount if you live with an adult with severe mental impairment, or if all the adults in your home have medical conditions which mean they are exempt from paying council tax.
How do I apply for a council tax refund if I have a sever mental disability?
HERE is how to claim back any council tax you may be owed.
- Speak to your doctor about whether you have a severe mental impairment or not.
- If you do, contact your council for a claim form to register for a council tax discount.
- You may be asked to include supporting evidence such as your doctor’s diagnosis.
- How long it takes to get your refund varies with different councils, so it is best to check with yours to see how long you will have to wait.
- Charities such as Alzheimer’s Society, Carers UK and Dementia UK all offer free help and advice on how to claim back any council tax you are owed.
How do I check if I’m in the wrong band?
First of all, it’s worth checking with your neighbours (if they live in similar or identical properties to you) what band they are on.
If you’re not friendly with them, you can check online as the information is publicly available on the Government website.
How do I challenge my council tax band?
Of course, if the valuation office thinks you are in the wrong band, you won’t necessarily pay less.
They could deem that you’re on too low a band and bump you up to a higher band, pushing up your annual bills accordingly – so applying is a risk.
It’s even possible that your neighbours’ band could be increased – though this is rare – so you should be as sure as you can be that you’re paying too much.
It is completely free to check your council tax band, so don’t be fooled by companies offering council tax rebates for a fee.
What if I'm told I can't challenge my council tax band?
Many people get told they can’t challenge their council tax band as they’ve been in the property more than six months.
If this happen, the Local Listings Office has a legal duty to ensure all properties’ bands are correct, so it should investigate and alter the Valuation List if it believes it’s required.
According to MoneySavingExpert, if you’re told you can’t appeal, it’s worth writing a letter politely explaining, “I am writing to tell you I believe the council tax banding list of my property is incorrect, my house is in the wrong band, and I ask that you investigate to check, and correct it if it is in the wrong band.”
This has worked for some in the past, but there are no guarantees. If it does work, you may only get a band change going forward, but no tax rebate.
What happens next?
If the valuation office agrees that your property is in the wrong band it will contact you and the band will be changed.
If it agrees your property is in too high a band, it will change the banding and refund the council tax you’ve paid going back to the date you moved into the property.
If it disagrees that you’re in the wrong band nothing will change.
Sarah Pennells of money saving website SavvyWoman.co.uk says that if this is the case, you can appeal to an independent valuation tribunal.
There are details on how to do this on the VOA and SAA websites.
If the VOA believes your property is in too low a band, you will have to start paying higher council tax straight away, she said.
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