THE average household could see their council tax bill rise by more than £100 in April, but thankfully there are ways to reduce the bill.
This year’s allowed price hike of 4.99 per cent is made up of 2.99 per cent for the general local authority budget and a further two percent which must be allocated to social care.
The Government’s spending measures would also allow the police to increase their section of the Council Tax bill by up to £24.
This means that if councils opt for the maximum, it could see the average annual Band D bill – seen as the most usual band – increase by £107 to £1,778, which is 25 per cent higher than a decade ago.
Luckily, there are steps you can take that could actually see your bill fall.
Find out what your neighbours are paying
The most important step is to find out if you’re in a higher band than your neighbour.
If you don’t fancy the embarrassment of asking them, the information is actually publicly available.
If they’re in a similar-sized property to you and in a lower band, then you may have a claim.
Be warned though – it might just mean all the other homes in the street are in the wrong band and could face higher bills as a result.
Check the value of your home
You also need to estimate how much your house was worth in 1991 and to do that you’ll need to find out what your house is worth now.
If you bought your home after 1991 you can simply use that price and the date it was sold.
If you bought it or rented it before that you can use a website which offers historic price information such as Zoopla or Rightmove.
Then you can estimate how much your home was worth in 1991, by using MoneySavingExpert’s calculator.
It’s only a rough estimate but it’s important as it might be that your neighbours are in the wrong band and not you – so you could end up hiking their bills if you appeal.
How to challenge your bill
Once you’ve done step one and two, you should be able to decide if you can challenge your council tax bill or not.
But keep in mind that you can’t just ask for it be lowered – instead, the council will carry out a “reassessment” which means your band could move up as well as down.
This could happen if you’ve added something to your property that increases its value, such as an extension.
If you’re sure you’re in the wrong band, then you can make a challenge.
To do so, you can contact the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) via the GOV.UK website and you’ll be given the chance to explain why you think your paying too much – and you should then get a decision within two months.
In Scotland you can do this on the SAA website.
If your challenge is rejected and you’re unhappy with the decision you have three months to appeal to an independent valuation tribunal.
If you’re successful, not only will you get lower payments going forward but a rebate from the moment you moved into the property – or from 1993.
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 happens, 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 help is available if I’m struggling to pay my council tax?
If you’ve fallen behind on your council tax bills, it’s important that you contact the council as soon as possible to explain your situation.
Council tax arrears is a ‘priority debt’, meaning you need to pay it before other debt like credit cards.
In fact, if you ignore council tax arrears, it’s likely your council will take you to court quickly to get all the money at once.
But if you’re really struggling, there’s also help to get. For example, if you’re on a low income or receive benefits, you may be eligible for a Council Tax Reduction – and it doesn’t matter if you rent or own your home.
The scheme could reduce your bill by as much as 100 per cent, but it depends on your personal circumstances such as where you live and whether you have children living with you.
Each council runs its own scheme, so the details vary by area – contact your local council for more information.
If you want to spread the cost of your payments a little further you can ask to make your payments over a full 12 months, rather than the usual 10.
Your council may also give you a one-off discount if you still can’t pay what you owe.
Lastly, even if you are in the right band and you’re not exactly struggling to pay the bills, there are still some options available if you want to cut your bills.
Full-time students, for example, don’t have to pay any council tax and if you live alone, or only live with a child and no other adult, you could qualify for a 25 per cent discount on your bills.
If you live with someone who has a permanent condition that affects their intelligence or social functioning – such as Alzheimer’s or severe learning difficulties, you could also get a quarter off your bill.
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.
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