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Council tax might seem like one of those bills you can’t do much about. But it’s important to check you’re not being charged too much.

Unlike most other taxes, council tax is pretty much fixed. It doesn’t vary based on your income or what you spend. Your local council sends you a bill and that’s pretty much it – you have to pay what they ask for.

However, many people have been able to reduce their council tax bill by making a few simple checks. In this article, we highlight what you should do to make sure you’re not paying too much.

How is my council tax bill worked out?

The size of your council tax bill depends on three main things:

  • How much your council charges for local services.
  • The circumstances of the people in your household.
  • Which tax band your property is in. There are 8 bands, A to H, with the lowest bills for band A.

There’s not much you can do about the first point. But the information below will help you check the other two to ensure you’re not paying too much.

Who must pay council tax?

Council tax is paid by adults who own or rent a property, and there is one bill to cover the whole household. However, there are some circumstances where you may be able to reduce your bill or even remove it completely.

The first thing to understand is who in your household is ‘counted’ for council tax purposes. Some people are ‘disregarded’, meaning that they are not liable for council tax.

This is important for two reasons:

  • Single Person Discount:

    If you live alone this is easy – you can get a 25% discount. But you may be able to get it even if you live with others. If all the other people in your household are ‘disregarded’, then you are treated as if you live alone and can still get the 25% off.

  • Full exemption:

    If you and everyone else at your address can be ‘disregarded’, you can apply to have a full exemption from the tax.

Who is ‘disregarded’ for council tax?

Here’s the list of the main categories of people who are ‘disregarded’ for council tax:

  • People under 18.
  • 18- or 19-year-olds who are still at school, or who have just left school.
  • Full-time students.
  • People who are severely mentally impaired. For example, this would include those living with advanced dementia.
  • Carers living with the person receiving care, providing that person is not their partner or under 18.

You can find a full list of disregarded people and more about discounts and exemptions here.

Can I get a council tax discount?

If after removing ‘disregarded’ people there is only one person in your household due to pay council tax, you can apply for a reduction.

For example, if you’re a single parent with two children at home, one who is 16 and another who is 21 but a full-time student, you can apply for the single person discount.

Can I get a council tax exemption?

There are some circumstances when households don’t have to pay council tax at all.

This is usually because there is no-one in the house who is counted for council tax purposes once everyone is ‘disregarded’, as covered above. This includes, for example, properties only occupied by full-time students.

Other examples of fully exempt properties are:

  • Properties owned by people who have moved out to receive care.
  • Properties empty because of the death of the owner, although there is a time limit.
  • Properties owned by the Ministry of Defence

Are there any other reductions?

If you can’t apply for a discount or exemption, there are other circumstances when you may be able to get a reduction. Examples are:

  • If you are on a low income and receive certain benefits such as Universal Credit or Pension Credit.
  • If you can demonstrate you are suffering serious financial hardship.
  • You are disabled and need to live in a larger house than you would otherwise because you need extra space.

Checking your council tax band

Surprisingly, houses are placed in bands based on what they were worth in 1991. Even if your house was built later, the band is based on what it would have been worth if it existed in 1991. And when properties were originally assessed by councils, it was not always done carefully. This means that properties have sometimes been unfairly placed in the wrong band.

The easiest way to check whether you are in the correct band is to compare your property to your neighbours. In England and Wales, it’s possible to check what band neighbouring properties are in via the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). Scotland has a similar service through the Scottish Assessors Association.

Try to compare your property to those in your street that are most like yours. If you are in a higher band than a neighbour with a similar property, you could be paying too much.

But be careful. If you ask the council to check your property’s tax band, you’re not asking for a reduction, you’re asking for a reassessment. The council could decide that your neighbour’s banding is too low and increase theirs instead of reducing yours. And they could even decide that your house needs to be moved up to a higher band. So, it’s only something to do if you’re confident you’ve been unfairly banded.

If you think you may qualify for a council tax exemption, discount, or reduction, or you want to have your council tax band reassessed, you should apply directly to your council. You’ll find their contact details on your council tax bill.

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