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How to challenge your council tax band and check if you can get a discount

Millions of households will pay higher council tax bills from April as local authorities hike bills for residents during the cost of living crisis. 

Three-quarters of English councils are planning a 5 per cent increase to council tax from April 1, according to the County Councils Network.

Five per cent is the biggest increase possible without a regional vote, and means the average band D property will pay an extra £100 a year in council tax, or £2,066 in total.

Households can end up paying less council tax by launching a successful appeal – but the process is complex and can backfire. 

They may also be able to apply for exemptions that can knock up to 100 per cent off their council tax bill.

Tax time travel: Bills for council tax are based on property prices from three decades ago

The average band A council tax bill is currently £1,310. Band B homes pay £1,529 and band C properties £1,747 a year. 

Britons who think their property might be in the wrong council tax band can ask the Valuation Office Agency for a reassessment. But this is risky, as there is no guarantee your band will go down – and in some circumstances it might even go up. 

And not only can you end up paying more council tax after a reassessment, your entire street can too. 

In 2015, residents of Lynton Avenue in Hull, East Yorkshire, ended up paying an extra £160 a year in council tax following one homeowner’s failed bid to get their property downgraded. 

Why challenge your council tax band?

A successful challenge that leads to your home being moved to a lower council tax band means you save money every year.

You can also get back payments for any overpaid council tax. 

How council tax works 

Council tax was introduced in 1991.

How much you pay depends on what band your property is in. These range from the lowest, A, to the highest, H, with D being the average.

Your home’s band is based on the price it would have sold for on April 1, 1991 in England and Scotland and April 1, 2003 in Wales.

But the valuation process at the time was rushed, and the three decades that have passed mean many homes are in the wrong council tax band.

How to challenge your council tax band

It is possible to challenge a council tax band, but homeowners can often find it is very difficult to secure a change.

1) Check how your home measures up to others

The first step is to check if you might have a case for your home being in too high a council tax band.

If your neighbours have similar sized properties to yours, asking for their council tax bands is a good place to start. 

Alternatively you can check their council tax bands, or in fact any English property’s banding, using this online council tax checker from the Government’s Valuation Office Agency. If the property you want to be re-banded is in Scotland, use the Scottish Assessors Association instead.

 2) Go back in time

The next step is to work out what your home was worth in 1991, when the council tax system was first introduced and the bands decided for all properties. Unless your home has previously been revalued for council tax purposes, it won’t have changed since then. 

This is often simplest to work out online, by using websites such as Rightmove, which record historic sale prices from 1995.

If you bought your house after 1991 but before 1995 you may be able to work out its value from looking up house adverts of the time in newspaper archives. 

3) Check the 1991 council tax bands

Next, check which council tax band your property should have been put in during 1991. Again, this can be done online.

 If your property seems to be in too high a band, you may have a case to get it rebanded.

Back to the 90s: Council tax bands are based on what your house was worth in 1991, as that's when the council tax bands were defined

Back to the 90s: Council tax bands are based on what your house was worth in 1991, as that’s when the council tax bands were defined

 4) Submit a challenge

The fourth step is to ask for your council tax band to be reassessed.

In England, this usually means putting in a case to the VOA online. Alternatively, claimants in England can email or call 03000 501 501. 

This is a complicated process, and you will have to give plenty of evidence that your house’s council tax band deserves to be reassessed.

You will have to give examples of the council tax bands of other properties similar to your own, as well as old house price information if you can.

You will also be asked to explain why you think your home is in the wrong council tax band, and which band you think it should be in.

In Scotland, this can all be done on the SAA website. 

How to get a council tax exemption

If you can’t get your property put into a lower band, there are still ways to bring down council tax bills for people on benefits, pensioners, those on low incomes, armed forces members, apprentices, people in care and students.

Exemptions worth up to 100 per cent of council tax bills are available for:

  • Full-time students (100 per cent reduction for all-student homes)
  • Armed Forces in forces accommodation (100 per cent reduction)
  • People living in hospitals and care homes (100 per cent reduction)
  • Apprentices, student nurses, carers, monks and nuns (up to 50 per cent reduction) 
  • People who live alone (25 per cent reduction)

To get an exemption you have to apply for it online.

If you have a mental impairment and live with someone eligible to pay council tax, you should get a 25 per cent discount.

If you are a live-in carer with someone other than your spouse, partner or child, you do not have to pay council tax.

You may be able to get money off your council tax if you are on benefits or have a low income.

Each council runs its own support scheme, so check with your local authority to see what you might be eligible for. 


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