Council tax is to be frozen or reduced in every local authority area in England this year, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced today.

It is the first year since the tax was introduced in 1993 that it has not risen (see the Council Tax Rebanding guide). The news comes ahead of this afternoon's Budget (for full coverage, return to MSE News from 12.30pm when Chancellor George Osborne's speech begins).

The freeze will be funded by 650 million provided by Pickles's Department for Communities and Local Government to support councils which opt not to increase bills.

Official statistics published today show the average Band D council tax set by local authorities in England will remain unchanged at 1,439 for 2011/12. Some 378 councils have frozen the tax and 43 have reduced it.

Pickles says: "This Government has made sure for the first time ever council tax bills have remained frozen all over the country this year saving some local taxpayers up to 72. We are standing up for the hard-pressed taxpayer who watched their council tax bill double.

"Tackling public debt is our highest priority but we are determined to protect hard-working families and pensioners who have been squeezed for too long. This is about giving real and immediate help to families struggling with the daily cost of living.

"As well as special funding that has ensured councils freeze their bills, the Government has scrapped a council tax revaluation and in the future residents themselves will have the right to veto excessive increases in local referendums."

Some areas may see a small increase in April, as parish councils are not covered by the freeze arrangements and could be imposing a hike in their share of the tax.

How to check your council tax band

Many households are in the wrong band so pay too much but there is a way to check and challenge this. Beware that the risk of using this technique could push you into a higher band, meaning you pay more in future.

  • Step 1. Compare your banding to your neighbours by entering your postcode on the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) website if you live in England or Wales, or the Scottish Assessors' Authority (SAA). If they are in a lower band but your property is similar, it will help your case for rebanding.

  • Step 2. Check house price values in your area. Go to one of the free websites that allow you to check the prices of all properties sold in your street since 2000. You want to find the most recent sale price of a similar property to yours (full details in the Council Tax Rebanding guide).

  • Step 3. Use a house price calculator and input the price you got from step 2 to estimate your home's value at 1991 levels which was when the bands were determined.

  • Step 4. Use the 1991 estimated value to work out your correct band for that time (full details in the Council Tax Rebanding guide).

  • Step 5. If your property band's unfair, contact the VOA or SAA. But remember you could also be placed in a higher band so only challenge if you're convinced you're paying too much.

The technique is most likely to work in England and Scotland as homes were revalued in Wales in 2003. Northern Ireland has a completely different system.

Does this really work?

While not everyone is successful, half a million households have reclaimed overpaid council tax over the past 13 years, government data shows.

Rebates often run into thousands of pounds (see the Council tax rebanding MSE News story).

Additional reporting by Guy Anker.

Further reading/Key Links

Reclaim: Council Tax Banding
Cut home costs: Home Insurance, Cheap Mortgage Finding