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5 August 2020
With many households struggling due to coronavirus, saving money has become crucial – so it's worth checking if you're in one of up to 400,000 households in England and Scotland that's overpaying. In 10 minutes, at no cost, you can check and challenge your council tax banding, potentially slashing what you'll pay in future AND getting a rebate going back years. Thousands have tried and succeeded, and payouts in the £1,000s are commonplace.
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.
MoneySavingExpert.com recently reported a massive reclaim success where one man challenged his band and saved himself and his 29 neighbours £10,000s. Read the full MSE News story here.
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.
Here are some MoneySavers' success stories:
"I'm over the moon. My first challenge was rejected, but after looking to MSE for guidance I escalated my case and won. My band has now changed from 'C' to 'B'. I'm getting £200 back and £300/yr lower bills. But it's had a bigger impact as they're lowering all the apartments' bands in our block. Together we're standing to get £10,000s back in past overpayments – one neighbour is getting 18 years' worth. I guess I am about to become the favourite neighbour."
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 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.
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
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.
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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:
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.
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.
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 year 1' enter the date of sale from earlier. (Make sure you enter which quarter of the year it was.)
D) In 'Valuation year 2' enter 1991, and Q2.
E) Select your region from the dropdown list.
F) Click 'calculate the results'.
The results then appear, for example:
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 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, we need to throw in a serious warning.
Challenging your band is not something to do speculatively without the checks, for one simple reason:
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' are too low.
Use the table below to see how strong your case is to help you decide if it's worth challenging.
If you're convinced your property band's 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.
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.
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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 us 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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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…
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.
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.
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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. Some benefits aren't always backdated so if your circumstances have changed and you're now eligible, make sure you apply ASAP.
But it's important to note that some of the discounts and benefits below may not be available in your area. This is because in April 2013 the system of council tax benefits was localised, meaning each local authority now decides what support to offer its residents. So you need to contact your local authority to check.
The full bill usually assumes at least two adults live in a property. So if you live alone, or are the only adult (not including 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.
Who doesn't count as an adult for council tax?
If you live with someone medically certified as having a 'severe mental impairment', eg, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, severe learning difficulties, or who has had a stroke, your household should be eligible for a 25% council tax discount. This is because the person you live with is 'disregarded for council tax purposes' in England, Scotland and Wales.
The person must also be eligible for one of a number of benefits (whether or not they actually claim them) and a registered medical practitioner must have diagnosed their impairment.
You'll need to let your council know that you should be getting a discount, and you'll have to apply as you would for any other discount. You can also apply to have it backdated. Backdated payments will likely be paid as far back as you can evidence your eligibility, eg, from when you started claiming a relevant benefit. It's up to each local authority to decide whether it allows backdating or not.
It's possible for you to get this council tax discount alongside other discounts – for example, the disability reduction scheme mentioned below. It's worth confirming this with your council if you think you're eligible.
For full details of the eligibility criteria and how to claim (including what's available in Northern Ireland), see our How to claim the 'SMI' council tax discount guide. For more info about MSE's SMI investigation, see our SMI news story, as well as our story on successful claimants.
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. However, this does not apply if a student lives with a non-student (see below).
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%.
You need to apply to your council for this discount – it isn't deducted automatically. To apply, visit Gov.uk.
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 council for this discount – it isn't deducted automatically. To apply, visit Gov.uk.
Council tax reductions are long-standing discounts of up to 100% off bills for those on benefits or a low income. It doesn't matter if you own your own home or rent, or whether you're employed or not. All can apply, but the sooner you apply the better as council tax reductions aren't typically backdated. Yet what you get depends on:
Some councils may let you backdate the reduction, but by how many months varies by council so you'll need to check, though the sooner you do it, the sooner your bill will be reduced. Apply for a council tax reduction at Gov.uk, or use a benefit calculator to assess your eligibility and see if you may be entitled to any other financial support.
Alternatively, your bill could be reduced if you apply 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.
Reductions for disability may be available if you live in a larger property than you would need if you or another occupant were not disabled. For example, if you have an extra room for treatment or space to use a wheelchair indoors, you may be able to drop a band.
People with severe mental illnesses are also exempt from council tax. Plus, live-in carers are exempt if they 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.
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.
If the property is being converted into flats, the band might be deleted while the works are underway – but if any part of the property is still liveable, then that part will be banded. Once the work is complete then each unit will be banded separately.
If you're adding an extension to your house, the band will remain if you can still live in the original house. Once the extension is completed, the band won't be reviewed or increased unless the property is sold.
You'll need to pay council tax if your home's empty, but your council may give you a discount, at its discretion.
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.
If your home has a 'granny flat' or similar extension, you're entitled to a discount of 50% on the annexe's council tax bill, provided it's in use as a residence or used by the main homeowner. You'll still pay council tax as normal on the main house.
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.
If you're eligible for the guarantee credit part of pension credit, 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 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.
If you think you may be eligible, it's best to contact your council to apply.
If you're a long-term resident of a care home or in hospital, you don't need to pay council tax.
If the stay is short term and you've a home elsewhere, you continue to be liable to pay council tax.
If the property is still occupied by a single person, they could get the 25% single occupant discount.
If a person occupying the property is in prison, there could be a discount or exemption, depending on the circumstances.
The above will not apply if the occupier is in prison for not paying their council tax.
If your property has been repossessed, you won't have to pay council tax from the day you move out.
If the occupier has died, whether there is council tax payable depends on the circumstances.
If the home is in such a bad state that it needs significant repairs, the restoration might end up changing the property's character so much that the result is virtually a new property. In this case, the band might be deleted, and the occupier won't pay any council tax.
The reconstruction must make it impossible to live in any part of the property for this to be considered.
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 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 our new Reclaim Overpaid Council Tax guide for a step-by-step on how to claim.