Council tax check & challenge your band

How 400,000 may be able to lower their bands and gain £1,000s

Hundreds of thousands of homes across England and Scotland are thought to be in the wrong council tax band. This means it's important to check your property's in the right band – something our tried-and-tested system can help you do. Some people have been overpaying for many years (even decades) and the issue is only compounded by annual hikes to council tax rates, so pay-outs worth £1,000s are commonplace. 

Important. This guide was originally written by founder Martin Lewis, but it is now regularly updated by the editorial team. Please also note that this guide is only relevant for residents of England and Scotland.

Watch Martin's six-minute council tax bands briefing

Before reading the full detail below, first watch founder Martin Lewis's six-minute introductory video on council tax bands and why so many households are overpaying.

Embedded YouTube Video

This clip has been taken from The Martin Lewis Money Show Live on Tuesday 16 January 2024, with the permission of ITV Studios. All rights reserved. Watch the full episode on the ITVX Hub.

100,000s are in the wrong band – how council tax bands were originally calculated

Many homes are in the wrong council tax bands, and have been since 1991. The story:

Once 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.

Martin has been campaigning about this since 2007

A front page of the Daily Express from 2007 featuring the headline "Tax refunds for millions"

When Martin first launched his council tax band check-and-challenge system back in 2007 it hit the headlines in a big way, making the front page of scores of newspapers on the same day he 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've heard from many people over the years who've successfully lowered their council tax band. If you've also used the information in this guide to do just that then please let us know.

  • Watch Martin's original council tax bands briefing

    Have a watch of another Martin Lewis council tax bands video briefing. Although the visuals look a bit grainy (it was filmed back in 2008), all of the information contained in it still stands. founder Martin Lewis explains council tax bandings
    Embedded YouTube Video

Council tax reclaiming – step-by-step

Follow the steps below to check if you're eligible for a payout:

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 property in England and Scotland is available via these websites...

In England, use

In Scotland, use the Scottish Assessors' Association (SAA)

So first check your band, and compare it with your neighbours' bands. 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 properties 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.

Step 2: The Valuation Check

A second crucial step is to estimate what your home 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 property prices on your street and it's an important test that you're on the right track if you do decide to challenge.

To make the valuation, follow the steps below:

A. Value your property

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.

  • Go to free house price websites
    To find a price quickly, use a website which offers free historic sales price information. These include NethousepricesZoopla and Rightmove.

    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.

  • Note down the price and date
    Find the most recent sale price of a similar property to yours in your street. Now note down both the price and the date of sale.

B. Find out 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.

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:

  • Scroll down the page to the calculator.
  • In 'Property value', note the sales price from earlier.
  • In 'Valuation year 1', enter the date of sale from earlier. (Make sure you enter which quarter of the year it was.)
  • In 'Valuation year 2', enter 1991, and Q2.
  • Select your region from the dropdown list.
  • Click 'calculate the results'.

The results then appear, for example:

A property in north west England valued at £170,000 in Q2 of 2010 would have been worth approx £67,000 in Q2 of 1991.

C. Check council tax bands for the property's 1991 price

Now you've worked out roughly what your property was worth in 1991, you can compare this to the table below to see what band you should have been put in, based on that home value.

Council tax bands at 1991 property values

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 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' band could be increased, although this is rare.

This is why it is crucially important you do BOTH of the checks, and to be especially careful if you've added an extension or something that increases your property's value.

In terms of you being eligible for a reduction, 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' band is too low.

Use the table below to see how strong your case is, to help you decide if it's worth challenging.

How strong is your case for revaluation?

Pass Pass Strong
Pass Fail Moderate case (mild risk to neighbours)
Fail Pass Not worth the risk
Fail Fail Never

Step 4: Challenge!

If you're convinced your property band is unfair, it's time to challenge it.

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.

How to challenge if you're in England

If you're in England, the website 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.

How to challenge if you're in Scotland 

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.

Possible outcomes

One of the outcomes is that you're told you can't challenge - but that might not be the end of the matter

A: You get told you can't challenge – but don't be fobbed off by this

Technically speaking, you can only formally challenge your council tax band (it's also known as making a proposal to change your council tax band) if you've lived in the property for six months or less.

But we don't think this is right. Martin has had conversations with former Government ministers who've told him the VOA has a legal responsibility to uphold the "integrity" of the council tax banding system.

So where you're told you can't challenge on the basis of having living in your property for more than six months, don't give up. You can still contact the VOA with evidence of why you think your band should be changed, and it should decide if it's enough to review your case.

Asking for a review is a different process than making a challenge. The VOA has told Martin it will be quicker and more efficient to ring it on 03000 501 501 if you're in England. This is because you'll get to speak to an expert directly, who will help you with queries and explain the process.

However, you can also 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." You will need to provide evidence along with your letter (for more, see the guidance on how to challenge your council tax band).

Send your letter to: Valuation Office Agency, Customer Service Centre, Wycliffe House, Green Lane, Durham, DH1 3UW.

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).

Live in Scotland?

For those in Scotland, proposals to change a council tax band are dealt with by your local assessor.

Similar to in England, technically you can only formally challenge a band if you've lived in your property for six months or less, though there are scenarios where you can challenge even if you've lived there for longer – see details of these on the Scottish Assessors' Association website.

If the assessor determines that you can't challenge (for whatever reason), it'll need to give you notice of this. You can appeal this decision, but it must be done within four weeks of that notice being served. Where the assessor stands by its original decision, your appeal will then be sent for hearing at the Valuation Appeal Committee.

You have three months to appeal if your challenge if rejected

B: Your challenge gets rejected

If you challenged your banding in England and were rejected – and you think it's wrong – you've got three months to appeal to the Valuation Tribunal.

Again, technically this option is only available if you've lived in the property for six months or less, or any of the other qualifying circumstances apply to you.

If you've lived in the property for more than six months and the VOA has decided there isn't enough evidence to review your case, or it has done so and decided not to change your band, you won't be able to appeal and the matter ends there. However, if you find new evidence that hasn't already been reviewed, you can try again.

Remember, the 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.

  • 'My challenge was rejected – is it worth pursuing further?'

    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.

    The website 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).

Live in Scotland?

For those in Scotland, if you're formally able to challenge your band, but the challenge can not be resolved by your local assessor within six months, the dispute will then be referred to the Valuation Appeal Committee.

You'll be given notice of the date and time of the hearing, and further details of the procedure.

If your challenge succeeds then you'll likely pay less council tax going forward and you may even get a backdated payout

C: You succeed!

Expect to have your band lowered and make sure you get a backdated rebate from when 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 MSE Forum.

How much can you expect to get if you successfully challenge your band?

Succeed in getting your band lowered and typically you can expect to pay between £100 and £400 less in council tax each year. 

You should also expect a refund covering all the years you've been overpaying, backdated to when you moved into the property – as far back as when the tax started in 1993. Backdated payouts can be worth £1,000s. reported a massive reclaim success a few years back, where one man challenged his band and saved himself and his 29 neighbours £10,000s. Read the full MSE News story.

Here are some other MoneySavers' success stories:

Our thanks go to your team for giving my husband the confidence to get in touch with our council. We have lived in our house for over 30 years and always felt our council tax was too high. We live in the smallest house in our close, but were paying the same as the rest. After months of communication, we are delighted to report we have had a refund of over £8,000 – plus a reduction of £50 a month going forward. This is going to help us tremendously.

Thanks for your advice on council tax banding. I recently challenged my own banding using the information on your website and am pleased to say I have been rebanded from E to D. I've received a rebate dating back to 1993 for £7,943, plus a reduction of £470 for this year and those going forward.

Council tax rebanding FAQs

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 their band. Can I appeal?

    We've not heard of this happening often, though there was big news back in 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. The person in band B challenged the 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 home (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 done there in 2003, so errors are less likely and less long-standing (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 consider whether you could just cut out the middle man and do it yourself.

    For most literate and numerate people with access to the internet, 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 that 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 (such as CRM1234) on the Ministry of Justice database. Avoid anyone not on this list.

  • What does council tax get spent on?

    Council tax pays for 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 while 10,120 properties were moved into a lower band, only 30 were put 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. And even if you do, there are no guarantees it will go up.

Are you eligible for a council tax discount?

The full council tax rate is the default setting, but many people qualify for a discount or reduction.

Discounts and reductions are worth at least 25% off your total bill, though there are also many people due nearer to off 50% – if not the whole bill wiped entirely. Head over to our Council tax discounts guide which has full information on who qualifies and how to apply. 

In brief though, discounts and reductions can be awarded to people including (but not limited to):

  • Students
  • People who live alone (or only with under-18s)
  • People living with a severe mental impairment (SMI)
  • Those on a low income / benefits / universal credit
  • Those on pension credit

Discounts can also be awarded to certain properties too. See our Council tax discounts guide.

Other MSE council tax guides... 

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