Martin Lewis: Six ways to slash the cost of your council tax bills

The coronavirus driven financial cataclysm is leaving millions struggling to meet bills. One of the biggest of those is council tax, yet many assume there’s no way to reduce it. That’s not correct. Let me run through six things everyone should check.

Council tax was first introduced in 1993 in England, Scotland and Wales (Northern Ireland works on a rates scheme). It’s a payment based on the value of your home – homes are banded from band A the least expensive, to band H, most expensive (Band I in Wales). More detailed help with all these tips at www.mse.me/counciltax.

How to reduce Council Tax - image of £1 coins of savings

Check if you can get a payment holiday from your council. If you’re struggling to meet your council tax payments due to coronavirus, ask your council for help. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule here. My team asked 20 councils, of which 19 said it would offer a deferral on a case-by-case basis, and only one said it wouldn’t. So, while there’s no certainty, it’s definitely worth asking. 

On universal credit / benefits you could get up to 100% off. Council tax reductions are long standing discounts of up to 100%, which you apply for directly with your local council (details of your council is at www.gov.uk/apply-council-tax-reduction). Clearly many more people are now eligible, as so many more are claiming universal credit (do apply for that first, if you’re planning to try both).

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The reduction is in addition to any benefits or universal credit you receive, but the reduction amount depends on your council and circumstances – for example, where you live, your income, if children live with you, if other adults live with you. Some councils may let you back date the reduction, but by how many months varies by council to council so you’ll need to check. Though the sooner you do it, the sooner your bill will be reduced.  

Plus, in England, some could get £150 off the bill backed by a £500m Covid-19 hardship fund. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been affected by coronavirus or not, as long as you’re of working age and have already had your bill reduced due to receiving benefits or on low income then you’ll be eligible. The discount will be applied automatically.

All those on the main guaranteed element of pension credit are due a reduction too, and some on the savings element are too.

Check you’re not one of up to 400,000 homes in the wrong band. It’s estimated there’s currently around 400,000 homes in England and Scotland are on the wrong council tax band and have been overpaying possibly since 1993, so you could be owed money back. The reason is simple. Houses were stop-gap valued in 1991, by people driving by – it’s known as 2nd gear valuations – and it’s never been done since (Wales has more recently been re-assessed). 

I first came up with my ‘check and challenge your band’ system back in 2006, and I’ve had 10,000’s or possible more successes since. The first step is to check whether you’re in a higher band than neighbours in similar or better identical homes, at www.voa.gov.uk in England and www.saa.gov.uk in Scotland.

If that shows you’re in a higher band, remember it could mean their band is too low. So next you need to do a valuation check, effectively back calculating what your house was worth in 1991 when bands were set. Don’t worry to make this easy I’ve a free tool to help at www.mse.me/counciltax.

If BOTH of these stack up then it’s worth asking for them to check if you’re in the right band. But don’t just have a go, without doing my two tests first, as it could mean your neighbours band goes up. And when it works, it works well, Karen emailed me to say “Queried our band and got a £6,300 refund backdated to 1993 plus our monthly charge is now approx £45 less. Thank you so much.”

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Do you live with someone with a ‘severe mental impairment’? You could me missing discount worth £1,000s. If someone has a diagnosed severe mental impairment, which includes some with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, strokes and more, then they may be disregarded for council tax purposes. Meaning they don’t have to pay council tax if they live alone, and get 25% off if they live with one other adult. Plus, some councils backdate it, leading to £1,000’s back. 

Sadly, this has been wildly underpublicised – but I do hear of many success like Tom who tweeted @MartinSLewis Thank you! After seeing you talk about Council tax exemption for severe mental disorders, after a brief battle I’ve claimed back £9,649.65 for my dad who suffered a stroke in 1999 and has lived alone since 2005. Thank you so much! This will make a big difference!”

To qualify the person needs to be medically certified as being severely mentally impaired and they need to be eligible for (not necessarily claiming) at least one of ten benefits, including severe disablement allowance, disabled persons tax credit, incapacity benefits and employment and support allowance. This can be complex so read my full guide to brief yourself at www.mse.me/SMI.

Living alone or with under-18s. If living alone you’re entitled to a 25% single person’s discount, which can be backdated. Plus, anyone under aged 18 and full-time students are disregarded for council tax purposes, so live only with an under-18 and you pay the single persons discounted rate. All student households pay nothing. Live-in carers are also 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/week.

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Had your home adapted for a disabled resident. Rather than a discount you may be able to get your council tax band lowered.

Martin Lewis is the Founder of MoneySavingExpert.com. To join the 13 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to www.moneysavingexpert.com/latesttip

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