Battle of the bands … my council tax band success

Sweet taste of victory

Sweet taste of victory

I’m a relative newcomer to MSE Towers, having pitched up a few months back as a sub-editor.

It’s my job to make sure the site’s accurate, reads well and that we don’t say anything too rude about anyone.

Part of my role involves going back through the scores of guides and tools and making sure they’re all in good shape. I always thought I was a pretty good MoneySaver anyway, but I’m learning a hell of a lot more by doing that.

So when the Council Tax Rebanding guide landed on my desk, I put my red pen down for a second to check out how it all related to me. I was amazed by what I found.

My story

Council tax was introduced in a hurry in the early 1990s, as the government tried to limit the damage from the politically-disastrous poll tax.

There was no time to properly value every single property, so estate agents were recruited to cruise the streets in cars and make quick notes about the homes they saw.

In England and Scotland, these 21-year-old "second gear valuations" still determine what we pay today. In many cases, they’re hopelessly out. And as I found, some later valuations weren’t too bright, either.

I’ve lived in my flat in south-east London since 1999, and had been paying council tax at band C without a second thought. As far as I can gather, the house was divided into flats in 1996, when my place was sold for £50,000 (those were the days…). In 1991, that would have put my flat in a lower band B.

I’d picked up the scent of something. I looked at what my neighbours were paying on the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) website, and discovered the flats in the identical house next door were in band B. But I was mysteriously in band C.

I knew I had a case. After a quick word with my upstairs and downstairs neighbours, I sent an email to the VOA’s local branch, in Bromley, asking if there was scope to challenge this.

Seven weeks passed. I wondered if my email had been lost somewhere. Then I got two packages in the post. The first was a letter from the VOA – my flat had been rebanded, and I was now in band B.

Refund success!

The second was from Greenwich Council – containing 13 individual council tax rebates. Totalled up, it came to over £1,000.

Naturally, I now have to fill in 12 separate refund slips – who said they make it easy to get hold of your money? – and return them to the council.

But thanks to 15 minutes of checking, and a quick email, I’ve reclaimed a wodge of cash I shouldn’t have had to pay out in the first place.

So if you haven’t already, it might be worth you having a quick check too – especially if you’ve lived at the same address for a long time.

Now, what to do with my windfall? Good thing the Cash ISA guide is next in my in-tray…

Have you tried to get a council tax rebate? Please share your experiences below or in the MSE Forum.