Updated September 2016
Up to 400,000 homes in England and Scotland could be in the wrong council tax bands. Yet in 10 minutes, at no cost, you can check and challenge your banding, not only potentially slashing what you pay now, but getting a backdated rebate stretching as far back as 1993.
Thousands have tried this and succeeded, and stories of payouts in the £1,000s are commonplace. This is a step-by-step guide to see if you can join them.
In this guide...
- Possible outcomes
- Council tax rebanding Q&A
- Ensure you're getting benefits & discounts
Why you may be overpaying - home valuers who drove by in second gear
Many homes are in the wrong council tax bands, and have been since 1991. The story:
nce upon a time, way back in 1991, in time for the launch of its new council tax system, the Government needed every property in the land to be put in a valuation band. But time was short, and the job large, so the people in charge asked estate agents and others to help.
Yet even with all the estate agents' help, they didn't have time to get the detailed information together, so they set about doing it quickly by pairing up and driving down countless streets, allocating each property a band with just a glance. They became known as “second-gear valuations” as they mostly never even stopped their cars, never mind got out of them.
Many years passed, and still nobody came to rescue the poor valuations in England and Scotland, though the Welsh Government reassessed all homes there. So the flawed old valuation still dictates much of the kingdom's banding, which is why you could be paying more than your neighbour even though you live in exactly the SAME size property.
This may sound like a fairytale, but every word is true.
How much can you expect to get?
This is no chickenfeed solution. Get your banding decreased and as well as paying £100 - £400 less each year, the repayment should be backdated to when you moved into the property, as far back as when the tax started in 1993. Here are some MoneySavers' success stories:
"Went through the mechanism of checking my council tax banding, via the Valuation Office etc. Discovered that I'd been in the wrong Band since 1993! Got back from holiday recently to find I'd got a refund in excess of £2k!! Thanks."
"Refunded £5,110, annual saving £344. The whole process has taken about three months, but it has been well worth the wait."
"Applied on behalf of my partner to appeal against his council tax banding. After 20 years in band F, now reduced to Band E and received refund from local council of £3,680. Thank you, Martin Lewis."
Council tax cashback in the news!
When we first launched this system in 2007 it hit the headlines in a big way, making the front page of scores of newspapers on the same day Martin presented a prime-time ITV show on how to do it.
The Government's Valuation Office Agency website, which is a key part of the technique, crashed for a week under the traffic.
We believe over three million people have now tried this system, and the successes have been huge.
In 2008 the Conservative Party said it believed 400,000 homes were in the wrong bands and in May 2009 the Telegraph suggested over 130,000 had had their band lowered.
Read how others fared
If you've succeeded, please report your council tax cashback successes. If you're new, feel free to read others' stories there.
Watch Martin's quick council tax reclaiming tips
Click on this video for a quick lowdown on how to check and challenge your council tax band.
Courtesy of It Pays to Watch, Channel 5, September 2008
Council tax reclaiming: Step by step
Follow the steps below and you could see a payout in as little as a month:
Step 1: The Neighbours Check
By far the most important step is to find out if your band's higher than neighbours in similar or identical properties. You could simply ask them, but there's no need as it's public info. The band of every house in England & Scotland is available via the these websites.
In England, use the Valuation Office Agency (VOA)
In Scotland use the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA)
So first check your band, and then your neighbours'. Make sure the properties are as close as possible in size and value. Sadly, the sheer scale of the database means a few properties are missed off it. If that happens, either speak to your neighbours directly or contact the council and ask why.
If neighbours in similar properties are in a lower band than you, then you may have a claim (though it may just mean that they're all in the wrong band). This happened to a street in Hull, when one unidentified resident appealed as she was in band B, and all her neighbours in similar houses were in band A.
But instead of her getting a council tax cut, all her neighbours are now facing larger bills as they were all upbanded. This is why it's vital to also do the Valuation Check below.
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Step 2: The Valuation Check
A second crucial step is to estimate what your house was worth in 1991, as that's when and how the council tax bands were defined.
This CAN'T be used as evidence if you challenge your band. But it enables you to check out various house prices on your street and it's an important test that you're on the right track if you do decide to challenge.
First - value your house
If you bought your house after 1991, you can simply use its price and date of sale to do this. If you rent or bought earlier you'll need to find an estimated price.
It's also worth doing this with similar neighbouring properties to check there are no anomalies.
Enter your street name and it'll tell you the prices of all properties sold there since 2000. For more on valuation tools, read the full Free House Price Valuations guide.
Now - find what it was worth in 1991
Once you have that information, you can use it to estimate what your property would've been worth back in 1991, and what band it's in. We've built a calculator to do it for you below, using house price data from Nationwide.
Estimate your home’s 1991 value How much was your property worth?
This is only a very rough indication, but still an important safety check. You may be in a higher band than your neighbours because they're in the wrong band, not you. In that case, if you appeal and stay in the same band, but their band is increased, it won't make you popular.
This additional check helps mitigate the chances of that happening. If this test indicates you are in too high a band, it's worth checking how far away you are from the band you're actually in as part of deciding whether to challenge your band.
How to work it out manually
To do this, go to the Nationwide House Price Calculator. This is actually designed for people to put in their property price when they bought it, and work out what it's worth now. Yet it is possible to use it in reverse to get a rough value back in 1991.
How to use the calculator
A. Scroll down the page to the calculator.
B. In 'Property value' note the sales price from earlier.
C. In 'Valuation date 1' enter the date of sale from earlier. (Make sure you enter which quarter of the year it was.)
D. In 'Valuation date 2' enter 1991, and Q2.
E. Select your region from the drop-down list.
F. Click 'calculate the results'.
The results, rather strangely, appear just above the calculator. For example:
You can then compare this to the table below to see what band you should have been put in, based on that house price.
Council tax bands at 1991 property value
|Band||ENGLAND 1991 Property value||SCOTLAND 1991 Property value|
|A||All properties under £40,000||All properties under £27,000|
|B||£40,001 - £52,000||£27,001 - £35,000|
|C||£52,001 - £68,000||£35,001 - £45,000|
|D||£68,001 - £88,000||£45,001 - £58,000|
|E||£88,001 - £120,000||£58,001 - £80,000|
|F||£120,001 - £160,000||£80,001 - £106,000|
|G||£160,001 - £320,000||£106,001 - £212,000|
|H||over £320,000||Over £212,000|
Step 3: Are you in the wrong band?
At this point, we need to throw in a serious warning. Challenging your band is not something to do speculatively without the checks, for one simple reason:
You can't ask for your band to be lowered, only for a 'reassessment', which means your band could be moved up as well as down.
It's even possible that your neighbours' band could be increased, although this is rare.
This is why it is crucially important you do BOTH of the checks, and are especially careful if you've added an extension or something that increases your property's value.
In terms of you being eligible for money, by far the most important check is the Neighbours Check, yet the secondary Valuation Check is useful for seeing whether your band is too high or your neighbours' are too low.
Use the table below to see how strong your case is, to help you decide if it's worth it.
Step 4: Challenge!
If you're convinced your property band's unfair, it's time to challenge it.
If you're in England, Gov.uk helps explain how to go about challenging your council tax band. You can either contact the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) directly at which point you'll be told how your band was decided, and have the opportunity to explain why you believe it is wrong and how it should be altered.
Alternatively you can check your band by entering your postcode and selecting your address from a list. Then you can click on the link asking if you think your council tax banding is wrong and you'll be given the option to fill out a checklist which suggests reasons you could challenge.
In Scotland, the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA) deals with council tax bands. Enter your postcode in the Council Tax Bands search box on the SAA Homepage. Select your property from the list. If you want to challenge the banding, click on "Make a proposal". You can then fill in an online form which will be sent to your local assessor, who will contact you.
Remember the formal challenge checklist is more a safety check before doing the challenge. It's got very limited value in your appeal. However, if you source actual sales prices from around 1991, that's stronger evidence.
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A: You get told you can't challenge it
Many people get told they can't challenge their banding, as they've been in the property more than six months.
If this happens to you, don't worry. The Local Listings Office has a legal duty to ensure all properties' bands are correct, which means, if pushed, it should investigate and alter the Valuation List if it believes it's required.
In 2013 the Government told the ITV team on the The Martin Lewis Money Show it will push the Valuation Office Agency to consider appeals, no matter when they are made.
In a statement to the show, Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said he had agreed to write to every council to tell them "the right to ask the VOA to check their band is not limited by time". See the minister's letter and MSE News story.
So if you're told you can't appeal, write 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 and does work, though there are no guarantees. It can need some perseverance and you may only get a band change going forward, but no backdated payout. See the council tax successes forum thread for details from many people who have pushed through this.
If it still doesn't help, you could complain to the Adjudicator's Office, which covers complaints about VOA administration (such as mistakes or misleading advice, not disagreements with its decision).
B: Your challenge gets rejected
If you challenged your banding and were rejected - and you think it's wrong - you've got three months to appeal to the Valuation Tribunal.
Yet remember, this check and challenge isn't a guaranteed system. The two checks are a strong indication that you should consider challenging your banding; but that doesn't mean it will always actually be changed.
We often get emails from people saying “I went through all the steps, they investigated and turned me down – what now?” For most, unfortunately it's probably time to give up.
However, if you've a compelling reason to take your case further - and the evidence to back it up, it could be worth appealing. Remember, the 'valuation check' calculator can't be used as evidence for house values in 1991, but if you can get actual sale prices from that time, this can be used.
Gov.uk provides further details on the Valuation Tribunal's process. If it decides against you, it's almost certainly time to give up. You do have a final right of appeal through the High Court if you really want it (though you'd need to prove the Valuation Tribunal made an error in law, not just that you disagree with what it said).
C: You succeed!
Expect to have your band lowered and ensure you get a backdated rebate from the moment you moved into the property (or 1993, whichever is later). You may also want to consider contacting previous occupants, as they should be entitled to a payout too.
Please share your story. The more info we have, the better we can finesse this system. Please report your council tax rebanding successes on the forum.
Council tax rebanding Q&A
Here are a few commonly-asked questions. If yours isn't answered below, take a look at the forum discussion.
I've been rebanded because my neighbour challenged her band. Can I appeal?
We've not heard of this happening often, though there was big news in October 2015 when it happened to a street in Hull.
One neighbour was in band B, with all other similar houses in the street in band A. She challenged her banding, and instead of her council tax being lowered, all her neighbours' council tax bands were raised, putting them all in band B.
If this happens to you, and you believe it's wrong, you need to start your own challenge under the normal system. However, since the neighbours check won't work if you've all been revalued, you'll need to rely on the valuation.
Again, you can't just use the calculator above to estimate your home's 1991 value and present that as evidence. But, if you can get evidence of sale prices of your (or similar homes in your street) from 1991, this would be strong evidence with which to make your case.
If you think you have a case, follow the steps to challenge your banding. You'll likely need to be prepared to take it to the Valuation Tribunal, as the Valuation Office Agency has already decided that your property should be upbanded.
Do payouts mean everyone else in the area will pay more?
According to Tony Travers, local government specialist from the London School of Economics, the obligation is on central government to make up the cost of substantial rebanding. The exact relationship is complex, but it does mean the cost is spread. Rather bizarrely, some individual councils may actually gain from this, as they get bigger subsidies if more people are in lower bands.
Let's put it in perspective. The whole point of this is to get your money back for council tax you've been overpaying for years. The more people who get revalued, the more pressure there will be on the Government to do a nationwide revaluation and ensure everyone is paying a fair amount.
Why doesn't this apply to Wales & Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland uses a completely different system to council tax so this is irrelevant. Wales does have a council tax system, but a nationwide revaluation was been done there in 2003, and so errors are less likely and less longstanding (though you can still challenge if you think it's wrong). So this guide is focused on England and Scotland.
My property usage has changed, can I still apply?
The bandings were assessed on 1 April 1991, and haven't been reassessed since then (except in Wales), so of course, for many people, they're out of date. For example, you could have had a nightclub built next to your house or it's been turned into flats (though you could also be paying too little if your home's improved!) or property values in your specific neighbourhood have dropped compared to elsewhere.
In fact, this is the traditional reason for rebanding your home. Until we launched the check and challenge system, this was the basis for the vast majority of appeals. So yes, in these circumstances you can still challenge your band.
A company has said it can get my council tax back for a fee, is this true?
Some firms may claim this, yet they have no more influence or power than you do – so do consider whether you could just cut out the middle man and do it yourself.
For most literate and numerate people with access to the web, council tax reclaiming is a straightforward process. While it takes a bit of time and effort, all the resources above should give you most of what you need to do it yourself.
If you need help though, the options are a lawyer or 'claims handler' as they're commonly advertised. But they are expensive and at best will take around a third of the money that you're owed. In general, there's simply no need to use a company. This site's stance is that it's easy and more lucrative to use the info above to do it yourself.
Yet there are times it may be suitable, such as for those with genuine financial phobia, lack of web literacy, or mental health issues. If that's the case, it's important to check out who you would use. If you are going to use a lawyer or claims handler, ensure you…
Never pay anything upfront!
There are some companies who will offer to carry out your claim for an upfront fee but if the company is not open and upfront about its fees, which as a rule of thumb shouldn't be much more than 25% of what you win, then don't go there. Also feel free to ask for references from other satisfied customers, which it should be happy to do if kosher.
All claims firms must be regulated for claims management activities and will have a reference to check (eg, CRM1234) on the Ministry of Justice database. Avoid anyone not on this list.
What does council tax get spent on?
Council tax pays for local services such as policing, education and waste management. It replaced the notorious poll tax in 1993, although Northern Ireland still uses the even older rates system. Whether council tax is more reasonable is a topic of debate.
What type of properties have to pay council tax?
Be it a house, flat, mobile home or houseboat, council tax is applicable to all personal dwellings. But don't assume all households pay the same amount.
Can I do it if I rent/am a tenant?
You pay council tax if you live somewhere, regardless of whether you are the tenant or owner. Which means if you rent, it's certainly worth going through the system to see. Before you challenge your band, courtesy dictates you should discuss it with your landlord first.
Are 'second-gear valuations' for real?
To rush through the valuation in 1991, it was often outsourced to relevant bodies such as estate agents. They were simply given a list of the size of properties and asked to assess them from the outside. Within the industry they became known as 'second-gear valuations', as, quite literally, agents stayed in their cars and drove past in second gear, allocating bands.
One estate agent confessed to us: "We were on deadline, we had to do 400 homes a day, working off a list. I was in a rural area, so often we couldn't even see the properties and just had to do a best guess. The system would've worked if the rebanding was done every five years."
Yet it wasn't. Bands haven't been revalued since, so it's no surprise so many are wrong.
What should I do if I think I'm in too low a band?
There is no obligation on you to do anything or tell anyone. Latest statistics show that 12,380 properties were put into a lower band and only 20 into a higher band - suggesting that most people don't say anything if they think they're in too low a band.
Whether you want to declare it and ask for an upbanding is a matter for you and your ethics. Though even if you do, there are no guarantees it will go up.
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Ensure you're getting council tax benefits & discounts
Depending on where you live, here are a few options to help manage your council tax bill:
Are you eligible for money off your council tax bill?
In April 2013 the system of council tax benefits was localised, meaning each local authority now decides what support to offer its residents. Therefore, some of the discounts and benefits below may not be available in your area - contact your local authority to check.
Council tax band changes aren't the only way to save money. Under certain conditions you're able to get a reduction on your council tax bill, or possibly be exempt altogether. If any of the following circumstances apply to you, contact your council immediately as you need to apply; reductions are not deducted automatically.
Do you live alone?
The full bill usually assumes at least two adults are living in a property. So if you live alone, or are the only adult (disregarding anyone in full-time education), you may be eligible for a single person's discount, meaning a 25% reduction.
Bearing this in mind, tell the council as soon as possible if your circumstances change through a housemate/lodger leaving, becoming a student, separation, divorce, or the death of a partner/spouse.
Are you on a low income?
If you're on a low income (and don't have much in savings) you may be able to receive council tax support to help ease the burden. The 10-Minute Benefit Check-Up will assess your eligibility and suggest if you may be entitled to any other financial support.
If you're in extreme hardship, your local council has the power to reduce your council tax bill to zero, but you will have to prove this beyond reasonable doubt. Each case will be looked at on its merits.
Your bill could also be reduced by applying for the Second Adult Rebate if you share your home with someone who is aged at least 18, (they can't be your partner) on a low income and not paying rent or council tax themselves.
Is your property being renovated?
For unoccupied and unfurnished properties which need or are undergoing major repair work to make them habitable, you may be able to claim a council tax exemption.
The council's likely to send you a completion notice if your home has had major repair works. The notice details the date the council thinks your property was finished. You'll need to pay full council tax from this date.
Is your property empty?
You'll need to pay council tax if your home's empty, but your council may give you a discount, at its discretion. You won't have to pay council tax if:
- The homeowner is in prison (unless for not paying a fine/council tax)
- The owner is in a care home/hospital
- The property has been repossessed
- The owner has died (council tax isn't charged for up to six months after probate is granted)
- The home cannot be lived in by law
If your home's empty (and unfurnished) for two or more years, your council can charge an extra 50% in council tax if your home's in England or Wales. If it's in Scotland, this premium can be charged after a year, and it can be up to an extra 100% (so effectively your council tax could be doubled!).
If you're in the armed forces and stationed away this premium doesn't apply.
Do you have a 'granny annexe'?
If your home has a 'granny flat' or similar extension, then you're entitled to a discount of 50% on the annexe's council tax bill, provided it's in use either as a residence or used by the main homeowner. You'll still pay council tax as normal on the main house. Find out if you're entitled to the discount in our Got an annexe? news story.
Do you have a second home?
You're liable for the full council tax on a second home. However, you could receive a reduction from the appropriate council. Second homes must be furnished to qualify.
Do you have a disability or are you a carer?
Reductions for disability may be available, for example, if for accessibility purposes you have to live in a large home or you've had to make modifications. People with severe mental illnesses are also exempt from council tax. Live-in carers are exempt if they look after someone with a disability who isn’t their partner for an average of at least 35 hours a week.
Do you receive pension credit?
If you're eligible for the guarantee credit part of pension credit, then you're also eligible for a full reduction on your council tax. But if you live with any adults who aren't dependent on you then the reduction might be less.
You'll need to let your local council know that you should be getting a discount, and you'll have to apply like you would for any other discount.
If you get the savings part of pension credit then you might also be eligible for a discount on your council tax. Discounts can vary depending on where you live, you can apply here to find out how much you can get.
Further information on council tax reductions, and a guide to claiming these, can be found on the Gov.uk website.
Get student council tax discounts
If you're a full-time student living alone or with other students you don't need to pay council tax, whether there's two, three or even 10 of you living together.
Live with a non-student? If a student lives with a non-student, the student is disregarded, so council tax could be reduced as if only a single person lives there. So the non-student may get the 25% single person's discount. But this poses a moral dilemma.
Is it fair for the non-student to pay the entire 75% due, or should the student contribute?
From the student's perspective, they wouldn't pay anything if their housemate was also a student. From the non-student's perspective they’d only pay 50% of the bill if their housemate was also a non-student.
Therefore our suggestion is to split the 25% difference between the two, so the non-student pays 62.5% and the student 12.5%.
Live with more than one non-student? Here, while the student again is exempt, because there are two non-students the house has to pay the full 100% charge. So again it gets complex - the student hasn’t added to the council tax bill, but nor has their presence resulted in a discount.
You'll need to decide if and how you want to split it, though the legal stance is that full-time students aren't liable for the bill if non-students can't or don't pay.
You need to apply to your local council for these discounts, they aren't deducted automatically. To apply, visit Gov.uk.
Pay council tax bills over 12 months, not 10
Many people have complained to us that council tax is paid over 10 months rather than 12, making monthly budgeting difficult (as you pay monthly for 10 months then get a two-month holiday).
In April 2013 the Government announced all councils in England must allow you to pay your council tax over 12 months.
However, we've heard there are worries that as it may impact their cash flow, some councils may not go very loud on telling people about this option. If you want to change how you pay, it's safest to contact it yourself.
How do I do this? If you're resident in England, contact your local council and tell it you want to change to the new payment schedule.