How to cut the cost of council tax

Andy Webb

If you pay your council tax over ten months rather than 12, then in February and March you’ll have a break from payments. But wouldn’t it be nice to see a reduction every month?

W ell, depending on your situation, you might be entitled to a discount or cashback on your bill. And if not, there’s a chance you can challenge your council tax band. Last year, 25% of appeals were successful, that’s a whopping total of more than 10,000 households.

 

Check for a discount

If you live alone, your council tax can be cut by 25%. You get the same discount if you’re the only adult—and that can be the case even if there are under 18s, students and anyone with a severe mental impairment living with you.

You might get a discount if you are on a low income, are disabled, receive certain benefits or are a live-in carer for a non-relative who is disabled, though these are all dependent on different factors.

There’s also a discount for second or empty homes, though that does depend on where you live as each council has a different policy.

 

Spread out your bill over 12, not ten payments

This won’t reduce how much you pay in total, but it will cut the amount you pay every month. Most councils automatically divide the annual bill over ten months, with no payments due in February and March, but you can request for it to be split over 12 months instead. This can really help with budgeting.

 

Earn cashback on your bill

If you open a Natwest Reward or Santander 123 Lite bank account you can earn money back on your council tax, as well as other household bills such as energy, water and telecoms. Both accounts come with a fee—£2 for Natwest and £1 for Santander, but the best one for you depends on the size of your other bills as the cashback varies between 1% and 3%.

You don’t have to switch bank to get one of these accounts, though you will need to transfer each Direct Debit yourself if you don’t.

 

Challenge your council tax

If you’re in the wrong tax band you could save a huge amount of money. Most properties in England and Scotland were assessed in 1991. Every home had to be quickly rated, and that meant the assessors couldn’t properly check each one. It could even have been just a fleeting look at the outside as they drove by. So mistakes could have been made. However, in Wales the data is from 2003 so errors are less likely, while it’s a totally different system in Northern Ireland.

Finding out if you are overpaying isn’t an exact science, but it’s worth a try. The best indicator of whether you’ve got a case is using the council tax valuation websites for England and Scotland. Enter your postcode and you’ll get a list of your and neighbouring properties, and more importantly, what band they are on. If properties you know as similar to yours are on a lower band, then you might have a case.

The next step is to check the valuation of your property in 1991. First get an idea of what it’s worth now or the most recent sale price. You can use sites like Rightmove and Zoopla for this. Then use this figure to estimate the 1991 price using Nationwide’s House Price Calculator. Do the same for a neighbouring property or two in the same band as you. Is there a big difference to the 1991 price?

If both of these tests indicate that you are indeed in the wrong band, you’ve got a good case to appeal to the Valuation Office Agency and you can ask for your council tax band to be reassessed.

A successful appeal means you’ll not only pay less in the future, but you’ll get the money back dated since you moved in, but only after 1993. Of course, it’s a two-way street and there’s a risk you could end up not only pushing your band up higher but everyone on the street too!

 

Useful websites to help you challenge your bill:

Check neighbouring property council tax rates in England cti.voa.gov.uk/cti/

Challenge your council tax band in England gov.uk/challenge-council-tax-band

Check neighbouring property council tax rates and challenge your band in Scotland saa.gov.uk/

Work out what your property might have been worth in 1991 nationwide.co.uk/about/house-price-index/house-price-calculator