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 Observer - - CASH / PERSONAL FINANCE -

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

Alamy

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.

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