'I got the council tax band for me and 29 of my neighbours lowered, saving us £10,000s'
A MoneySavingExpert.com user has become the "favourite neighbour" in his area after challenging his council tax band and getting a price reduction for him and 29 other apartments in his postcode.
Jake Hanwell, who lives in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, decided to question how much council tax he was paying after reading information on this site. With his challenge initially rejected, he took his case further and was able to move his band from 'C' to 'B' – saving about £25/month on current council tax rates and getting £200 back in overpayments.
And his appeal has had a knock-on effect on neighbouring properties, with residents collectively due to save £10,000s on bills over the next few years. They'll also receive council tax rebates – one neighbour, who has lived there since the homes were built in 2001, is set to get £1,000s back.
Jake, 25, says he is "over the moon" with the result, and has been delighted to speak to the neighbours he has saved money for.
To see if you can lower your band and save £1,000s, see our Council Tax Bands guide.
How did Jake challenge his council tax band?
Jake, who works as a data manager at a bank, purchased his apartment in March 2019 for just under £70,000. He gets MSE's weekly email, and says our Council Tax Bands guide prompted him to question if his band was correct, as many are not, due to issues with how they were originally set.
For more than a decade we've urged the 400,000 homes in England and Scotland in too high a council tax band to check if they're owed £1,000s each, as many have overpaid since 1993, when the tax was introduced. (Northern Ireland has a different system, while council tax bands in Wales were reassessed in 2003, meaning errors are less likely.)
Jake says that after doing some research he became convinced his banding was incorrect. However, his challenge was initially rejected by the Valuation Office.
Our guide has a section that tells you how strong your case for appeal is, and while it showed his appeal was not without risk, he decided to pursue it anyway.
Jake says he looked on our website for further details about how to appeal if a challenge is rejected. He appealed to the Valuation Tribunal and was given a tribunal date for November 2019. He prepared his argument using previous apartment sold prices and by comparing his council tax band with the bands of other apartment complexes in the same postcode and town.
But before the appeal was to be heard, he says he received a phone call from the Valuation Office which confirmed it was to change the band of his property – and he was also told the band of many of his neighbours' properties would change too. Jake hadn't appealed on behalf of his neighbours, as he was initially using his own property as a test case, but says he was told the band of the other properties changed as a knock-on effect of his own appeal.
Although Jake was successful, challenging the banding could have seen residents' council tax bills increase, so it's important to weigh up the risk, particularly in borderline cases.
Jake: 'I'm over the moon'
Speaking of his success, Jake (pictured) said: "I guess I am people's favourite neighbour. I am over the moon with the outcome.
"The rest of the block didn't know what was happening. I was appealing for myself initially but I was thinking if I sort this out for me I can tell others. But it's had an immediate impact.
"I put letters through people's doors telling them that their band will go down, and I added a 'PS: I drink red or white wine'. So far in thank-you gifts I have received a £25 M&S voucher, six bottles of mixed wines, one bottle of white wine and a £20 Amazon voucher.
"There's a man who's lived in the block for 18 years – he'll be getting £1,000s back – and I got an email from another man who'd just moved there and said this will make such a difference for him as he's just separated from his partner."
'Challenging your band could make you a popular neighbour'
MoneySavingExpert.com money editor Helen Saxon said: "Checking and challenging your council tax band often takes just a few minutes, and can mean getting £100s or even £1,000s back. Plus, as Jake's story shows, it could even make you a very popular neighbour.
"And with council tax bills set to rise yet again for many of us in April, there's no better time to check you're not overpaying by being in the wrong band."
How will the refunds now work?
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council confirmed that the bands of 30 properties in Jake's postcode were changing, as they'd been incorrect since 2001, when they were built.
It told us it would be contacting residents in each of the affected properties and refunding the extra council tax back to this time.
How do I check and challenge my council tax band?
Checking and challenging your council tax band can be easy. Here's a brief rundown, but check our Council Tax Bands guide for full info.
- Step 1: Compare your banding with your neighbours' band by entering your postcode via the Gov.uk website if you live in England or Wales, or the Scottish Assessors' Association website. If they are in a lower band but your property is similar, it will help your case for rebanding.
- Step 2: A second crucial step is to estimate what your home was worth in 1991, as that's when 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 property prices on your street and it's an important test that you're on the right track if you do decide to challenge.
- Step 3: At this point, it's time for reflection. Challenging your band is not something to do speculatively without the checks, for one simple reason: you can't just ask for your band to be lowered – only for a 'reassessment', which means it could be moved up or down. It's even possible that your neighbours' council tax could be increased, although this is rare.
- Step 4: If you're convinced you're right, challenge. This works differently depending on whether you live in England, Scotland or Wales, so check our guide for full information.