Worried you might be overpaying your council tax? It’s never been easier to check
It takes just minutes to look up a property’s band, and a successful challenge could lower your bill and earn you a backdated rebate, writes Emma Lunn
The tech whiz-kid Joshua Browder shot to fame two years ago with DoNotPay, an online “robot lawyer” designed to fight unfair parking tickets. It has gone on to successfully challenge more than 450,000 tickets – and now it’s time for local authority council tax departments to watch out. That’s because Browder, 20, has now created an online service to help households challenge their council tax banding.
“I’ve developed technology which looks at your council tax band, your neighbours’ council tax bands and historical house price data, and tells you whether you might get your band lowered. You can complete the process in 10 seconds,” says Browder, who has moved from London to study computer science at Stanford University.
Browder says the service, likely to be available via his DoNotPay site, should be up and running any day now, though you don’t have to wait until it launches – it’s already possible to find out whether you may be overpaying. And whether it takes 10 seconds or a little bit longer than that, challenging your banding can be time well spent. MoneySavingExpert. com estimates that up to 400,000 households are paying too much.
“The good news is that you can check and challenge your council tax banding in 10 minutes at no cost – and, if you’re successful, not only could you slash what you pay now, you could even get a backdated rebate stretching back more than 20 years,” says Steve Nowottny, news and features editor at MoneySavingExpert. You could cut your annual bill by perhaps £100-£400 going forward, plus pocket a refund of as much as £5,000-plus.
Last year 10,670 people in England and Wales who asked for their council tax band to be reassessed saw their bills reduced, and potentially could receive a rebate for tax they overpaid.
However, figures from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) show a further 31,550 households saw their challenge rejected, while 30 saw their bills increase – illustrating that there is a chance that your challenge could badly backfire. A further 10,300 council tax accounts were amended due to properties being demolished, merged or split.
How is your bill calculated?
Your council tax bill depends on three factors: your tax band, local council tax rates and any discounts you might be entitled to. Properties are banded from A to H (I in Wales). Properties in band A have the lowest council tax bills and H (or I) the highest.
In England and Scotland the bands are based on property valuations made in April 1991, while in Wales they are based on valuations from April 2003. Northern Ireland uses a different system based on rental values. However, many properties were put in the wrong band on day one, seeing their occupiers overpay ever since.
Should you challenge?
Experts suggest carrying out two checks before you challenge your council tax band: which band your neighbours are in and the value of your house in 1991.
You stand the best chance of success if your home is in a higher band than neighbours who live in similarsized properties. But don’t worry – you don’t have to pop next door and ask them about their council tax bill. All the information about England and Wales is online at gov.uk/council-taxbands, and on the Scottish Assessors website at saa.gov.uk/ if you live in Scotland.
So check your band and then neighbouring properties similar to yours in size and value. If you live in a block of flats, check the other flats that have the same number of bedrooms as your property. If your neighbours are in a lower band than yours, you may have a viable claim.
At this stage it is wise to carry out a 1991 valuation check, which will confirm whether it’s you or your neighbours who are in the wrong band. You don’t want to make a challenge that results in your neighbours being moved into a higher band – you wouldn’t be popular.
“Use free house price websites such as Zoopla or Rightmove to get an idea of your property’s value now. Then use that figure to estimate what your property would have been worth back in 1991 when the current council tax system was launched, and what band it was placed in then. “Nationwide has a house price calculator which can help,” says Nowottny. “This will only give you a rough idea, but it’s an important safety check – it’s possible that you may be in a higher band than your neighbours because they are in the wrong band, not you.”
Bear in mind that even if the results of these checks indicate your property might be in the wrong band, you can’t ask for it to be lowered – just reassessed. This means your band could move up as well as down.
How to make a challenge
If your property is in England or Wales, you need to contact the VOA and explain why you think your council tax banding is wrong. Go to gov.uk/council-tax-bands, and it clicks through to the VOA site, where you can key in your postcode (or someone else’s) and get the council tax bands for all the properties in that road/area.
If you live in Scotland you can fill in an online form on the Scottish Assessors website to challenge your banding.
If you are unhappy with the results of a review that is carried out, you might be able to formally challenge the band. However, the circumstances for doing so are limited.
You might have a case for having your property rebanded if there have been changes to your property since the original valuation, such as part of it being demolished, or if it has been converted from a house into flats.
In England, if you make a challenge and disagree with the VOA’s decision, you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. If you are in Wales you can appeal to the Welsh Tribunal.
Council tax discounts
Thousands of people may be due a council tax discount due to their personal circumstances.
If you live alone you will be due the single person’s discount of 25%. However, some people are not counted as second residents. These include: students, apprentices, student nurses, anyone who is “severely mentally impaired” and carers (if they are not the main resident’s husband, wife or civil partner).
Research by MoneySavingExpert suggests that up to 100,000 people who are entitled to a substantial council tax discount are missing out.
A report by the website, the Disregarded Discount, claims twothirds of councils give bill payers incorrect information about discounts for people diagnosed as severely mentally impaired, with some frontline staff unaware of rules that could reduce council tax bills by 25% if the person lives with one other person, or 100% if they live alone.
The site says the discount is worth an average of £400 a year, and those who haven’t claimed may be able to get the discount backdated.
Dr Hilda Hayo, chief executive of Dementia UK, says: “A diagnosis of dementia can be devastating for families, and financial implications can play a significant role in that.
“Many people with dementia and their families simply do not know they are eligible for a council tax reduction or exemption. Lack of awareness and training among council staff regarding the exemption do not help.”
‘Not only could you slash what you pay, you could get a rebate stretching back more than 20 years’ Steve Nowottny
Last year more than 10,500 people in England and Wales who asked for their council tax band to be reassessed saw their bills subsequently reduced.