Councils across the country are busy announcing plans to hike up council tax bills from April, placing even more financial pressure on households already struggling to make ends meet.
Local authorities can increase the tax by 1.99% a year before they have to call a referendum, and the government has also given them the power to increase bills by another 2% to pay for adult social care.
Many authorities have already said they are planning to raise council tax by the maximum 3.99%, typically adding around £50 a year onto bills.
Recent research from the TaxPayers’ Alliance found that in 1996-7, the average band D council tax bill in England was £646. That figure has now risen to £1,484, an increase in real terms of 58%.
How to cut your council tax bill: check for discounts
Council tax bills are often one of our biggest monthly outgoings after our mortgage or rent, so make sure you check if you could be eligible for a discount.
For example, if you live alone, or if you are the only person over the age of 18 living in the property, you’ll be eligible for a 25% reduction in your council tax bills.
If everyone who lives in your house or a flat is a full-time student then you don't have to pay council tax at all. Remember that it is your responsibility to let your local council know you are all students, otherwise you'll get a bill and you could even be fined for not paying.
You could qualify for a discount if you live in an annex or ‘granny flat’. Annexes which are used by the occupier of the main house as part of the main home, or annexes which are occupied by a relative of the person living in the main house may be entitled to a 50% reduction in the council tax payable on the annex.
Discounts also apply to unfurnished properties. You may not have to pay council tax for a month if a property is unfurnished and no one is living in it. Bear in mind that this discount can only be given once and when it ends you’ll need to start paying again.
If you are on a low income and have limited savings, you might qualify for Council Tax Support to help cover your bills. Each council runs its own scheme, and your bills could be reduced by up to 100% depending on your circumstances. You can check what Council Tax Support is available in your area by speaking to your local authority. You can find their details at www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council.
If your property is in too high a band, you could be entitled to a backdated refund of the council tax you’ve paid
How to cut your council tax bill: Are you in the right band?
Properties were allocated their council tax bands way back in 1991, often without detailed information being used to check each property was placed in the correct band.
If you think your property could be in the wrong band, perhaps because you are in a higher band than similar properties nearby, you’ll need to make a formal challenge to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). In Scotland you have to use the Scottish Assessors’ Association (SAA).
You can find out more about how to do this at www.gov.uk/council-tax-appeals. You will need evidence to show the price your property would have sold at in 1991 conflicts with the valuation made at that time.
Bear in mind however, that your band can be moved up as well as down, so make sure you’re certain yours is too high before appealing.
If the valuation office agrees that your property is in too high a band, you could be entitled to a refund of the council tax you’ve paid dating back to when you first moved into the property. If, however, it decides your property is in too low a band, you’ll have to start paying higher council tax straight away.