Council Tax Bands
Lower your band & save £1,000s
Millions of people saw their council tax bill increase by 5% in April (6% for some in London), so it's worth checking whether you're inadvertently overpaying – be that because you're in the wrong band or simply not claiming a legitimate discount. Thousands have tried and succeeded, and payouts of £1,000s are commonplace.
This guide is aimed at residents of England and Scotland. Council tax banding errors are less likely in Wales following a nationwide revaluation in 2003, while Northern Ireland uses a completely different system.
Other MSE council tax guides...
- How to reclaim overpaid council tax: How to check if you're owed and how to claim.
- How to claim the 'severely mentally impaired' council tax discount: Who's eligible and what discount can you get.
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.
How much can you expect to get if you successfully challenge your band?
It's well worth asking: "What council tax band am I in?"
Get your banding decreased and, as well as paying between £100 and £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.
MoneySavingExpert.com reported a massive reclaim success last year, where one man challenged his band and saved himself and his 29 neighbours £10,000s. Read the full MSE News story.
Following your advice we contacted the Valuation Agency and found we had been in the wrong tax band since 1996. We have just received a refund of £6,972. So glad we took your advice, as before your programme we did not realise we could contest our banding. With grateful thanks.
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.
When I 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 I 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.
If you've succeeded to lower your band, please report your council tax cashback successes.
Have a watch of my council tax banding video explainer below. Although the visuals look a bit grainy (it was filmed back in 2008), all of the information contained in it still stands.
Council tax reclaiming – step-by-step
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...
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.
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.
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. I'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.
|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|
At this point, I 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.
|Pass||Fail||Moderate case (mild risk to neighbours)|
|Fail||Pass||Not worth the risk|
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, 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.
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.
You can only formally challenge your council tax band if you've lived in the property for six months or less. This is also called making a proposal to change your council tax band.
This is done through the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). It might be able to change your band before you need to challenge, so get in touch with it first and explain why you think your band is wrong – make sure to include evidence. If you're unhappy with its decision, you can then formally challenge via its website.
If you've lived in your property for more than six months, you can still contact the VOA with evidence of why you think your band should be changed, and it will 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 me it will be quicker and more efficient to ring it on 03000 501 501 if you're in England, or 03000 505 505 if you're in Wales. 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 Gov.uk 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).
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.
Note: 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.
I 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).
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 I have, the better I can finesse this system. Please report your council tax rebanding successes on the MSE Forum.
Council tax rebanding FAQs
I'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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (eg, CRM1234) on the Ministry of Justice database. Avoid anyone not on this list.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 as an individual eligible for a council tax discount?
The full council tax rate is the default setting, but many people qualify for a discount. The default council tax bill assumes two or more adults live in a property. If not, then discounts between 25% and 100% are possible – this often occurs because certain categories of people are disregarded from council tax.
If you think you're eligible for a discount, YOU MUST APPLY – visit Gov.uk to find your local council's details. Some of the discounts are backdate-able, meaning you could be due a lump sum worth £1,000s. Though if your circumstances later change, do inform the council as it can change your liability.
Who can claim? You can claim this discount if you live alone, or if you are the only adult in the household (eg, living with under-18s or somebody in full-time education).
How big is the discount? The single person's discount is worth 25% off the full bill. So a £100 monthly council tax bill would become £75.
If the single person is a full-time student or has a severe mental impairment, then the property would be completely exempt from council tax – meaning no council tax to pay.
Who can claim? If someone has a 'severe mental impairment' (a horrid term, from here on we'll call it an SMI), eg, somebody who has Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, severe learning difficulties, or who has had a stroke – then they can be disregarded for council tax purposes.
To qualify, they will need to both be medically certified as having an SMI, and be eligible for one of a number of benefits. The SMI situation is complex and some council staff may not have heard of it, so we have a special How to claim the 'SMI' council tax discount guide to take you through it step-by-step.
How big is the discount? If someone with an SMI lives alone, they don't pay any council tax. The same applies if they live with just under-18s or just those in full-time education or just others with SMIs – as they too are disregarded for council tax purposes.
If someone with an SMI lives with one other adult, then effectively that other adult gets the single person's discount, so the council tax bill is 75%. If there are two or more other adults, then the household pays the full amount.
If someone with an SMI lives only with a live-in qualifying carer, then the council tax reduction is 50% (the reason for this is complicated, and it's to do with how some people are disregarded for council tax, while some households are completely exempt).
Who can claim? If a household has only full-time students (including one student alone) then there is no council tax to pay. Even if there are eight of you as students, you are disregarded for council tax purposes.
To count as a full-time student, your course must last at least a year and involve at least 21 study hours a week.
How big is the discount? A household with only full-time students, or students living only with under-18s, or someone with an SMI, does not pay council tax as all occupants are disregarded.
If full-time students are living with one non-student adult (who doesn't qualify for any other discounts), then the household will get a 25% single person reduction. Yet it is worth noting the whole household is legally liable for the bill, not just the non-student. If there are two or more non-student adults, then the full council tax is due (and again, all are legally responsible).
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 my suggestion is to split the 25% difference between the two, so the non-student pays 62.5% and the student 12.5%.
Having watched one of your TV programmes, I claimed for my three years of study. I wasn't expecting success, but the council cleared my remaining tax account for the year and reimbursed me £2,600+.
Patricia, via email
4. People with a live-in carer – 25% discount
Who can claim? Those with a live-in carer can also get a discount. But the carer needs to look after someone with a disability who isn't their partner, spouse or child under 18 for an average of at least 35 hours a week. The carer must live with the person with the disability, and the person cared for must either be getting the middle or higher rate of the care component of Disability Care Allowance.
How big is the discount? If the live-in carer qualifies, a 25% council tax reduction can be applied to the household. If the live-in carer cares for someone with an SMI or someone under the age of 18, then the council tax reduction is 50% (both get a 25% discount each).
I made an application for a discount for my dad's council tax due to his dementia, and received four years of refunds. And last week the council emailed me because, as his live-in carer, we are eligible for a further 25% discount, and they have backdated the refund to 2017.
John, via email
Is your home or household eligible for a council tax discount?
Some households can get a discount on their council tax bill or even be exempt from paying it.
Below we'll talk you through how they work in very straightforward scenarios, however you might also fulfil multiple criteria (including some of those talked about above). If you think you're eligible for a discount, YOU MUST APPLY – visit Gov.uk to find your local council's details.
Again, some of the council tax discounts described below are backdate-able, depending on the circumstances.
Who can claim? Reductions may be available if your home has been adapted for a person with a disability. This could include:
- An extra bathroom or kitchen for the person who is disabled to use.
- A room which is 'predominantly' used by the disabled person. For example, it could be a downstairs room in a two-storey house which the disabled person has to use as a bedroom. Or it could be a room that has been adapted specifically for the disabled person to use.
- Sufficient floor space so the disabled person can use a wheelchair in the home.
How big is the discount? If you can prove this renovation was made to cater for somebody with a disability, you will get either a 25% council tax reduction or your council tax band will be dropped.
For those living in England or Wales, you'll likely see your council tax band dropped, while those living in Northern Ireland will typically get a 25% discount off their current council tax bill.
Who can claim? If you're on a low income or claim benefits, such as universal credit, your household may qualify for a council tax reduction. It doesn't matter if you own your own home or rent, or whether you're employed or not. Yet what you get depends on:
- Where you live (each council runs its own scheme)
- Your circumstances (eg, income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
- Your income, including savings, pensions and your partner's income
- If children live with you
- If other adults live with you
How big is the discount? Depending on your circumstances, your household could get up to a 100% discount. Check with your council.
Who can claim? If you or your partner are getting the guaranteed credit part of pension credit, your household is also eligible for a full reduction on your council tax bill. If you get the savings part of pension credit, then you might also be eligible for a discount on your council tax, though this won't be a full reduction and how much you'll get will depend on how much savings you've got.
How big is the discount? Depending on your circumstances, you get up to 100% off your council tax bill. If you live with any adults who aren't dependent on you, then the reduction might be less.
Some time ago you mentioned about claiming for pension credit. I own my home, no mortgage, I have savings and Premium Bonds. I really didn't think I would get anything. I did, backdated, and also will not have to pay council tax. Many thanks, Martin x
Susan, via email
4. People who are renovating their home to make it habitable – possible 100% discount
Who can claim? For unoccupied properties which are undergoing MAJOR repair work or structural alterations to make them habitable, you may be able to claim a council tax exemption.
How big is the discount? If your property fits the category above, you will be exempt from council tax for up to 12 months.
5. People with empty homes – possible 100% discount (but it depends on the reason)
Who can claim? There are some instances where you don't have to pay any council tax on an empty home. These include:
- You're a long-term resident of a care home or hospital. Here you don't need to pay any council tax on your home, even though you're not living in it. However, if you're only in hospital or a home for a short time, eg, recovering from an accident, you'll need to pay council tax as normal.
- You're in prison. If the property's now empty, you do not need to pay council tax on it, unless you're in prison for not paying council tax!
- The owner of the property has died. If the home's empty, it's exempt from council tax until someone new moves in or probate is granted. If probate has been granted and the home is still empty and hasn't been sold, it will be exempt from council tax for a further six months. If it's still empty and unsold after six months, the executor will be responsible for paying council tax from the estate.
If you've inherited a house from someone who's died, you're responsible for paying council tax once the transfer has been completed.
If your empty home isn't exempt, you will have to pay council tax. In fact, if your home's empty (and unfurnished) for two or more years, your council can charge an extra 100% 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!) This is to avoid having lots of empty properties up and down the country.
However, if you're in the armed forces and stationed away, you won't be charged extra council tax, but will need to pay the normal amount.
How big is the discount? It could be up to 100% off your bill depending on your circumstances.
6. Your property has a granny annexe – 50% discount (on the annexe's bill only)
Who can claim? If your home has a 'granny flat' or similar extension, provided it's in use as a residence or used by the main homeowner, then you might get a discount.
How big is the discount? If you've got an granny annexe, you will receive two council tax bills – one for the annex and a separate one for the rest of your home. You're entitled to a discount of 50% on the annexe's council tax bill, but you'll still pay council tax as normal on the main house.
7. You have a second home that's not usually lived in – up to 50% discount
Who can claim? If you have to live in a second property for your job, eg, you live there during the week, or own a holiday home, some councils would give you a reduction. This does not include buy-to-let properties.
How big is the discount? Councils can give a discount of up to 50%, but it's up to the council to decide both if it'll offer the discount in the first place and how much it will be.
You can pay bills over 12 months, not 10 (in England)
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, I've heard there are worries that as it may impact their cash flow, some councils may not be very loud in 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 live in England, contact your council and tell it you want to change to the new payment schedule. Make sure to check your new bill when it arrives to see that the schedule has definitely changed.
Have you moved home since 1993? Make sure you haven't overpaid your council tax
A major MSE investigation has shown that £230 million in unclaimed council tax sits in council coffers. This is due to many people not knowing they pay council tax a month (or sometimes a year) in advance. See MSE's new Reclaim Overpaid Council Tax guide for step-by-step info on how to claim.
Clever ways to calculate your finances