Your household bills could shoot up in April, with council tax rates in a most areas set to increase by at least 2.5% for the new 2019-20 tax year, a recent survey has found.
The research, carried out by the Local Government Information Unit think-tank (LGIU), found 97% of councils plan to increase council tax in 2019-20, and of those, 75% were intending to implement a price increase of more than 2.5%.
In real terms, an increase at this rate would mean someone living in a Band D property in Lambeth, for instance, currently paying £1,387 for the year, would be charged an extra £34.68 in 2018-19 – but it could be more.
While it’s important to bear in mind that the survey results only represent 123 out of the 353 local authorities in England – and don’t include any responses from Scotland or Wales – the vast majority of councils did increase rates last year.
In fact, many people experienced the steepest council tax to take place for several years in 2018-19, as many authorities increased bills by 5.99%.
This was a result of the price cap – the amount a council can raise rates without needing to go to a referendum – rising to 2.99%, as well as the introduction of a further 3% precept to be spent on adult social care.
Which? explains why council tax rates are on the rise, and what you can do to get your bill reduced.
When will I find out if my rates have increased?
Most people will receive their council tax bill for the upcoming tax year towards the end of March. You can either pay this in one go, or split it into 10 payments throughout the year (you usually won’t be billed in February or March).
Your local authority website may publish its rates before the letters are sent out.
The UK government also publishes rates tables for England and Wales, but these weren’t made available until 28 March last year – by which time most people had already received their bill.
The Scottish government statistics, meanwhile, weren’t available until the end of April last year.
Find out more: what is council tax?
Why are council tax rates increasing?
Councils can set any rate increases themselves, up to the price cap of 2.99% – and it’s likely many will hit the maximum this year.
Local authority finances are looking pretty bleak, and more money is needed to continue with even basic public services, the results of the LGIU survey made clear.
Despite previous council tax hikes and a government cash injection announced as part of the Finance Bill, 53% of councils revealed they would need to dip into their reserves this year to fund their operations. In fact, 40% will have to use reserves for the second year in a row.
Over the long-term, if government funding and council tax income aren’t sufficient, spending is likely to be reduced on services such as libraries, parks and leisure, waste collection, recycling, arts and culture and roads.
Find out more: paying council tax
What is council tax spent on?
Councils charge a tax on their residents to fund local services such as the police, fire-fighting services, parks maintenance, refuse disposal, street cleaning and support for vulnerable people.
Expenses vary depending on the needs of the residents, which is why bills vary between areas.
Councils also receive government funding, which they are responsible for managing.
To see how your area compares, you can use the free Which? council tax calculator. Simply enter your postcode to see your local authority’s council tax rates for all bands of property.
Find out more: council tax calculator
Could you get a council tax reduction?
There are a few options for reducing the amount of council tax you pay each month.
Change your council tax band
If you think your property is in the wrong council tax band – perhaps because a larger building was turned into flats, or because it was put into the wrong band to begin with – you can request a revaluation from the Valuation Office Agency.
You could be moved down into a lower council tax band, which would result in cheaper bills and a refund of anything you’ve overpaid in the past. However, keep in mind that properties can also be moved up a band, meaning your bills would increase.
Find out more: how to get a council tax refund
Council tax single-person discount
If you live alone, you’ll be eligible for a 25% discount on your council tax bill.
But you may still qualify for a single person discount if you live with people who fall into the following categories:
- An apprentice studying for a recognised qualification
- A young person (under 25) in approved training
- A full-time student – must be attending university or college, or be under the age of 20 and studying A levels or equivalent
- An 18- or 19-year-old in full-time education
- A student nurse
- Resident hospital patients
- People living in care homes
- People who are severely mentally impaired
- People staying in hostels or night shelters
- Carers (who provide at least 35 hours’ care a week) if they are not the main resident’s husband, wife or civil partner
- Monks or nuns
- Members of visiting forces
- Individuals with diplomatic privileges or immunities.
Second home discount
Some councils offer a 10% discount on holiday homes, and 50% discount on second homes for tenant publicans or members of the clergy who are provided with accommodation for work.
You’ll still need to pay full council tax on the property you use as your main home.
If the property you own is standing empty, you’ll still face a council tax bill.
In some cases, a local authority may decide to give you a discount for an empty home, and you won’t pay tax if the home has been repossessed, is derelict or the owner is in a care home or in prison.
However, if the property is empty for more than two years, the council has the discretion to charge you a 50% surcharge – so make sure you know the rules in your area.
Find out more: reducing your council tax bill