Can I get a discount on my council tax?
What is council tax, how much is it and what do you do if you're struggling to pay it? We look at the range of council tax discounts and exemptions, which could save you many hundreds of pounds, as well as how to challenge your council tax band.
What is council tax?
Council Tax is a compulsory tax charged by your local council to fund local services such as rubbish collection.
It is an annual charge usually spread over 10 monthly payments. If you pay your council tax in 10 instalments, you will be granted a tax-break in your bill usually in February and March.
How much does council tax cost?
This depends on you council tax band (A – H), which is based on the value of your home on 1 April 1991, if you live in England or Scotland, or 1 April 2005, if you live in Wales.
The valuation bands in England and Wales are:
A – up to £40,000
B – over £40,000 and up to £52,000
C – over £52,000 and up to £68,000
D – over £68,000 and up to £88,000
E – over £88,000 and up to £120,000
F – over £120,000 and up to £160,000
G – over £160,000 and up to £320,000
H – over £320,000
In Scotland, the bands are as follows:
A – up to £27,000
B – £27,001 to £35,000
C – £35,001 to £45,000
D – £45,001 to £58,000
E – £58,001 to £80,000
F – £80,001 to £106,000
G – £106,001 to £212,000
H – £212,001 and above
Who has to pay it?
- You will usually have to pay council tax if you are aged over 18 and you own or rent a home.
- You will have to pay full council tax if you have two or more “liable adults” living in your household. Spouses and partners who live together are jointly responsible for bill payments.
- You will receive 25 per cent off your bill if you live on your own, or if no-one else in your home is an adult.
- You will usually get a 50 per cent discount if no-one living in your home, including yourself, counts as an adult.
- Households with only one liable adult receive a 25% discount and households with no liable adults receive a 50% discount.
But there are many discounts and some cases of total exemptions. So read on…
Do I count as a liable adult?
If you are over 18 you are a liable adult, unless:
- You are on an apprentice scheme
- You are a full time education, in college or university student
- You are a student nurse
- You are under 25 and receiving funding from the Skills Funding Agency
- You have a severe mental impairment
- You are a live-in carer who look after someone who isn’t their partner, spouse or child (up to 18 years)
- You are a foreign language assistants registered with the British Council
- You are a diplomat
Which properties are exempt from council tax?
- Armed forces accommodation
- Annexes which are occupied by the owner’s children
- Homes which are solely occupied by full time students
- An empty home can be exempt from council tax for up to six months if it is left unfurnished
- If you are conducting major structural changes to your home a 12 month exemption is available
- You are exempt from council tax for 6 months on homes which were owned by someone who has died. This exemption begins after probate is granted
If your home is empty for one of the following reasons it is exempt as long as it remains unoccupied:
- If you are in prison
- If your home has been repossessed
- If your home cannot be lived in by law
- If you have been taken into care or hospital
- If your home has been bought by compulsory order
What if I can’t afford to pay council tax?
If you are on a low income or claiming benefits you may qualify for a council tax reduction. You can get up to a 100% reduction. How much you get depends on –
- Where you live – each council runs their own scheme
- Your circumstances (eg income, number of children)
- Your household income – this includes things like savings, pension, your partner’s income
- If your children or other adults live with you
Contact your local council to check if you are eligible
If you are struggling to pay your council tax, speak to your local council. You may for example be able to spread the payments across 12, rather than the usual 10 months.
Could I qualify for any other council tax reductions?
The Disabled Band Reduction Scheme makes sure disabled people don’t pay more council tax if they need:
- An extra bathroom, kitchen or other room for the disabled person
- Extra space inside the property for using a wheelchair
To meet these requirements the property must be the main home of a minimum of at least 1 disabled adult or child.
Are second homes exempt from council tax?
No, council tax is now charged on second homes, which are defined as furnished properties where no one lives or the owner has a main home elsewhere. Here are the rules:
- In the first 6 months second homes are exempt from council tax for one month, then a charge of 50% is payable for the next 5 months. After this period, the full council tax becomes payable.
- If you are conducting major structural changes to a second home you have to pay 50% of the council tax bill for up to 12 months and then the full amount after that.
- If you leave the property empty for more than 2 years you will be charged 150% of the council tax.
- However, if you own a property that has been left empty and unfurnished for more than 6 months you may be able to claim a discount of up to 50%.
Contact your local council to find out if you’re eligible for a discount
How do I challenge my council tax band?
The first thing you’ll want to establish is whether you have a case for challenging your council tax band.
The first step in assessing this is to find out what your neighbours pay. You can ask them if you have a good relationship, or look online.
For homes in England and Wales you can search by postcode on the Valuation Office Agency website and it will list the council tax bands for properties. For homes in Scotland, you can search on the Scottish Assessors website.
If your neighbours in similar homes are in a lower band than you, you might have a claim. However, it is possible they’re in the wrong band – so the next step is essential to avoid the risk of them being moved into a higher band if you challenge yours.
Conduct a valuation
You need to find out how much your house was worth in 1991. This is because that’s when council tax bands were last set.
Try using Monysavingexpert’s calculator which uses Nationwide data to estimate what your home’s value was in 1991. And very usefully, also shows you the council tax band relating to that price.
Beware bills could go up
The data about council tax band challenges from 2018 shows the risk of your bill going up is slim – but it is still possible. So it’s essential to do your research and think carefully before challenging, in particular considering factors like if you have extended your property or added more bedrooms.
Steps to challenge your council tax band
If you’re convinced your property is in the wrong band then in England and Wales, you need to contact the VOA. You can call them on 03000 501 501 for properties in England and 03000 505 505 for homes in Wales. They may review and change your band without you needing to challenge it.
While in Scotland, you’ll need to start with the SAA website, input your details, choose to ‘make a proposal’ and they will contact you.
Are people successful in challenging their council tax band?
The number of Brits who successfully challenged their council tax bill increased in 2018/2019, according to new figures from the Valuation Office Agency.
The data showed that of the 38,350 cases resolved in 2018/19, 11,910 saw their bills fall. This is a success rate of 31%, compared to 25% the previous year.
One concern some people have is that if they challenge their council tax band, they could find their property is moved up, rather than down a band. However, in 2019 only 30 bills – 0.08 per cent – saw a rise.