How to reclaim overpaid council tax

Reclaim overpaid council tax

Moved home since 1993? Check if you're owed £100+ back

At least £150 million in overpaid tax is sitting in council coffers. Moved home since 1993? You could be owed £100+ of it. Even if you haven't, you might still be due. This guide explains how to check whether you're one of the 100,000s affected, and what steps to take to get the money back.

This is just one of our council tax MoneySaving guides...

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Who is most likely to be owed

Data we gathered under the Freedom of Information Act shows that more than £150 million is owed to council tax-payers across 364 local authority areas in England, Scotland and Wales. Our news story has a full council-by-council breakdown, but for reclaiming, all you need to know is that 862,000 households are owed money and how to check if you're due some.

Essentially, a council tax account will be in credit if you've paid more than you owe at any point. Normally, this isn't a problem – in fact, as council tax is usually paid in advance you'll often be in credit. However, when an account is closed while in credit – which can happen if you move to another area, for example – this can be an issue.

Here are the main reasons you might be owed:

  • You pay for your council tax in advance, and the account's closed before the point you've paid up until. For example, if you pay for a year's worth of council tax in 10 instalments, covering April to March, but move out in mid-February, you've overpaid by a month and a half. Councils will often automatically give you a refund before closing your account – but if yours doesn't and you don't reclaim, it'll be closed in credit. 

  • You forget to cancel a payment. This means you could end up paying when you no longer live in the property.

  • You get a retrospective discount, for example, if your property's rebanded. If the person who moves into your property after you successfully applies to get the tax band lowered, this technically means that you overpaid and so a credit could be applied to your (already closed) account. To find out if your old home has been rebanded, in England or Wales see the Government's council tax band checker. For Scotland, see the Scottish Assessors' Association website

Knowing whether or not you fall into the categories above can be difficult. But based on our research, we believe:

You're MOST likely to be able to claim if you've moved out of a council area in the last 29 years (all the way back to 1993), and weren't paying by direct debit. 

This is because:

  • If you moved within the same local authority area, it's more likely the council would have spotted your old account was in credit and refunded you/reduced your bill at your new address – whereas you're more likely to be owed if you left the area, especially if you didn't leave a forwarding address. 

  • Eight out of 10 councils told us they try to refund credit wherever possible, and if your council has your direct debit details, this should be straightforward. But the vast majority of councils that do try to refund credit told us they can't if you paid by any method other than direct debit – for example, if you paid by cash, standing order or cheque. 

However, to be clear, there will be exceptions – some who have moved within local authorities and/or paid by direct debit WILL be owed too. For example, if you lived in a home where there were multiple bill-payers, it might have been harder for the council to establish who should have been refunded.

How do I make a claim and get the money back?

The best way to claim for money you think you are owed will depend on your council, as some have different options: 

  • Option 1. Check if your old council offers an EASY online claims form. This is the best way to find out if you're owed, and for some it will be the simplest way. Just google "[council name] council tax refund form" – we found that half the time this'll take you to an online claims form, and if not it should take you to a page explaining your council's process.

    Many councils' forms require you to have your old council tax reference number (you should find this on a previous bill), and some forms we've seen are long – if either of these is a problem, try the option below instead. But the advantage of doing it this way is that if you find you ARE owed, you won't need to do anything else to reclaim. 

  • Option 2. Call or email your council. If there's no online form, you don't have enough details or the form's off-puttingly long, you can try calling, emailing or live chatting with your council instead. (You can check contact details on Gov.uk.)

    While this may seem the more straightforward option, it's worth noting if you do find you're owed cash, you'll likely then have to fill in a form to reclaim it (or at least give further details). 

    Important. Do make sure you check if you're likely owed any cash first by following our criteria above. We don't want everyone just calling their council on spec to find out. It'd waste your time and kill their switchboards when many will be needing to speak to their council for essential support amid the cost of living crisis. 

Quick question

  • How do I claim for someone who has died?

    Councils tell us someone passing away is often a reason for an account being closed, and some accounts may be left in credit. So if you're the executor of someone's estate, you should be able to claim for their council tax credit.

    Contact the council in the same way as outlined above to check if you're owed any money and claim.

'I claimed back £100+ after moving'

Here are a couple of success stories to inspire you... 

Laurence from London reclaimed council tax credit after moving away from Tower Hamlets. He said: 

I claimed back £103. I was paying by direct debit for five years from the same account with no arrears [before I moved out]. There was only credit because I left the borough part way into the month after my direct debit had gone out.

Former MSE Will B also had a nice surprise, when he found he was owed money by Manchester City Council after a new tenant successfully lowered the council tax band. He said:

Three years after I moved out of my flat, I got an email to my old email address telling me the property was rebanded and I was owed £400. I genuinely thought it was a scam. It was only when I got round to ringing the council directly that they confirmed it was real.

We want to hear your stories. Whether you've successfully claimed, or tried to but had problems, tell us at news@moneysavingexpert.com.

Spotted out of date info/broken links? Email: brokenlink@moneysavingexpert.com