A third of people who challenged their council tax band last year were successful, securing a lower bill and a refund for overpaid tax, the latest figures show.
Indeed, of the 38,350 cases that were resolved by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) in 2018-19, a total of 11, 910 successfully had their property moved to a lower council tax band. Meanwhile, just 30 people – 0.08% of all appeals – saw their bills increase, while the remainder stayed unchanged.
The number of successful applicants had increased by 25% in comparison with the previous year. So, while there’s still a chance your bill will go up, it seems increasingly possible to secure a reduction.
Successfully challenging your band means not only lower bills in future, but potentially a refund from the council for the money you’ve overpaid.
Which? explains how council tax bands work, and how to make an appeal to get yours changed.
How to make a council tax band appeal
If you think your property has been placed in the wrong council tax band, or changes to the property mean it needs to be reassessed, you’ll need to contact the VOA in England and Wales or the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA) in Scotland.
The following reasons are deemed acceptable for making a council tax challenge:
- changes to the property since its original valuation, including being converted into flats, part of it being demolished etc
- the VOA failing to make a change, or making an incorrect change
- a date of change from the VOA is wrong
- a property should be added or removed from the rating list
- change to the property or surrounding area that affects its rateable value
- valuation is wrong due to a legal decision on another property
- property details are wrong or incomplete
- valuation was wrong when the rating list was created.
Here are some tips for the appeal process.
1. Compare notes with your neighbours
If your neighbours have a similar property to yours, and you get on well with them, you could ask how much they pay. If they’re in a lower band, it could be an indication you’re in the wrong one.
You can also check what council tax other people in your area pay by checking the VOA website. Meanwhile, the Which? council tax calculator can reveal what people pay in every band in your area. Simply enter your postcode.
2. Check your house value
Council tax bands are determined by the value of your property in April 1991 in England and Scotland, and 1993 in Wales.
So, to challenge your band, you’ll need to find out what its value was in those years.
House price websites such as Zoopla and Rightmove can help you find out the current price of your property, and the Nationwide House Price Calculator can then give you a valuation from the relevant year.
3. Challenge your council tax band
If, after these steps, you still think there’s a discrepancy, you can take your case further. There are two procedures to bear in mind.
If you think the original valuation of your property was incorrect, you’ll need to persuade the VOA (or SAA). Explain the outcome of checking your council tax band with your neighbours and other properties in your area, and why you feel yours is incorrect.
You’ll need to ask for a band review.
If you think your property band has changed since the original valuation, you need to write to your council and explain why it should be changed.
If your appeal is rejected, you can apply in writing to the Valuation Tribunal to request a review. It will either tell your council to amend your bill – either up or down – or disagree with the grounds of your appeal, so that your council tax will remain the same.
- Find out more: how to get a council tax refund
How is council tax calculated?
Council tax bands are worked out slightly differently across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In England, properties are put into a band from A to H, depending on the price they would have sold for in April 1991. For properties built after that date, the VOA assesses them based on size, layout, character, location, use and an estimated value on that date.
In Scotland, the bands also range from A to H based on the April 1991 value, but the band ranges are different.
In Wales, there’s an additional I band, and values are based on market value on 1 April 1993.
Northern Ireland uses a domestic rates system, which is a formula based on the property’s capital value, the domestic regional rate and the domestic district rate.
Baffled? You’re not the only one. A recent House of Lords report called the current council tax system ‘confusing,’ and called for it to be reformed to mirror the value of the property.
- Find out more: council tax bands
Other ways you can reduce your council tax bill
If you don’t think you have an argument to change your council tax band, you may still be eligible to get a discount or reduction on your council tax bill.
For instance, the 25% council tax discount is not just for people who live alone; for the purposes of tax, some people aren’t counted as second residents even if they live in the property. They are referred to as ‘disregarded people’.
If you share your home with one of the following people, you may be able to claim a 25% discount:
- a young person (under 25) in approved training
- a full-time student, either in university or college, or under the age of 20 and studying for A-levels or equivalent
- an 18 or 19-year-old in full-time education
- a student nurse
- people who are severely mentally impaired, including those suffering from dementia
- carers providing at least 35 hours’ care a week, but only if they’re not the main resident’s spouse or civil partner.
There are more of these exceptions, which we list in full in our guide to reducing your council tax – including details on reductions for second homes and the disabled band reduction scheme.
If you think you’re eligible for a discount, the onus is on you to contact your council and let them know.
You’ll need to provide evidence to prove your circumstances. Depending on what they are, these could include a doctor’s letter or university correspondence. The council must reply within two months to say whether you can receive a reduction.
If you’re not happy with the response, you can dispute the decision by making an appeal to a valuation tribunal service and ask for it to be reconsidered.