April’s hike in council tax is going to be as unwelcome as it was predictable.
UK chancellor Jeremy "Scavenger" Hunt has been searching out every possible dark corner for extra tax that could be raised without causing too much political backlash. Council tax was always going to feature because central goverment and councils can blame one another for the rise, to escape the wrath of voters.
As a result, from April 2023 your council tax will rise by anything up to 5%, so the bill for a Band D property could rise from an average of £1,966 to an average of £2,064.
Back in 1990, people rioted in the streets at the thought of a poll tax at £357 per person — which with two people in the household would come to £714. Taking inflation into account that’s the equivalent of £1,613 today.
We passed that level in 2018, and next year we’ll be leaving it in the dust.
Meanwhile, of course, our finances are being stretched to breaking point on all sides. In April, when these higher tax bills kick in, we’ll also be overloaded with yet more hikes in our energy bills — to an unimaginably difficult £3,000 a year.
It means that while we’re happy to pay our fair share to support local services, none of us are in a position to pay over the odds.
There are a couple of things you can do that may help cut your bills.
See if you are able to get a discount
Some people are "disregarded" when you’re calculating how many people are in the house. This includes under 18s and students.
If disregarding these people leaves nobody in the house you could get a 100% discount — so student households should pay nothing.
If it leaves one person, they can get the single person discount of 25%. You won’t get this automatically — you’ll need to apply.
There are also discounts for those with a severe mental impairment like Alzheimer’s, certain full-time carers for people with disabilities on specific benefits, and people on pensions credit.
The discount will depend on who lives in the house, so you may need to check whether you qualify, and how much you can save. The best place to start is the government website.
Check if you're paying too much
You might also be paying too much because you’re in the wrong council tax band.
These were set at a specific moment in time, and because so many properties were valued simultaneously, some corners were cut.
If it turns out that they valued your property too highly, you could end up paying lower bills — and get a refund into the bargain.
Do the legwork
It’s worth knowing up front that challenges don’t always work, and in the worst case, they can mean your valuation is raised, so your bill ends up even higher. It means you need to do some legwork first.
The easiest approach is to ask neighbours in similar properties what they pay, because if it’s very different, you might have found a mistake. Not everyone feels comfortable with these questions, so if you prefer, you can check the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) website.
Next you need to get an idea of what your property was worth in 1991. Zoopla has a record of previous sale prices in each area. Even if your property wasn’t sold in 1991, it will be able to provide an estimate.
You can then compare this to the list on the VOA website and see what band you should have been put in on day one. The idea is that this will show whether it’s you or your neighbours in the wrong band.
If you’re sure your home is in too high a band, you need to get in touch with the VOA, either through the government website or by calling them on 03000 501 501.
There’s a bit of work involved, and there are no guarantees, but while council tax keeps rising, checking whether you can cut your costs could end up being an incredibly rewarding hour of your time.