It's exactly 20 years since most homes in England and Scotland were valued to place them into council tax bands, yet still, hundreds of thousands are paying too much.

However, you can fight back and check and challenge your band if you're being overcharged (see the Council Tax Rebanding guide).

Back in 2008, the now Secretary of State for Communities and local Government Eric Pickles accused Labour of hiding the fact 400,000 homes may be in the wrong band.

Yet the coalition Government shelved plans to revalue council tax bands in England and Scotland last year, saying it would cost households an average £320 a year.

How were homes valued?

On 1 April 1991, in panicked preparation for the new council tax system after the poll tax riots, the then Tory government needed every home valued.

It called estate agents and valuers, paired them up, gave them clipboards and had them drive down streets allocating bands to homes, based on the value.

The more expensive the home was perceived to be, the higher the band it went into, meaning the more it cost the householder in council tax.

These became known as second gear valuations as some never even stopped their cars.

This stop-gap valuation system has never been revisited and still dictates what homes in England & Scotland pay, though in Wales there was a revaluation in 2003, with another scheduled next year.

The mess means many pay more than neighbours in identical homes. If that's you, you're owed.

However, as a result, some also pay too little.

Martin Lewis, creator, says:"The quick fix of twenty years ago has been morphed into a long term fixture.

"We've constantly received reports from people who checked their band and are shocked to find it's too high and has been for years. The system is shoddy and not fit for the purpose but I doubt any politician will ever be brave enough to sort it."

£1,000s reclaimed

Some have fought back to get their band lowered and rebates for those successful often run into thousands of pounds.

One forum user, Avril, says: "They informed me that, from April 1993, the banding on my house has been amended from C to B. I've received 17 annual statements setting out the overpayments which amount to £1927.73."

Avril will also pay less council tax in future.

While not everyone is successful in their appeal, over half a million households have reclaimed overpaid council tax over the past 14 years, official data shows.

How to check your council tax band

If you think you're paying too much, there is hope by using the check 'n' challenge system. 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. Northern Ireland has a completely different system.

Further reading/Key Links

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