The new financial year sweeps in this month, bringing a raft of changes in its wake. Moneywise explains how to beat these hikes.
Cut council tax costs
In England, the majority of local authorities can raise council tax in 2018/19 by up to 3%. Previously the level was capped at 2% but the government announced in December 2017 it would increase the threshold in line with inflation. If councils want to implement a bigger increase they must hold a local referendum.
Due to a funding shortfall, those councils with responsibility for adult social care can also implement an additional 3% rise this tax year. Research conducted by the Local Government Information Unit suggests 95% of local authorities will raise council tax in 2018/19.
In Scotland, the council tax freeze which had been in place since 2007 ended last year and all councils in Scotland now have the power to raise council tax by up to 3%. It was reported that for the first time in a decade, all 32 local authorities have decided to increase council tax rates for 2018/19 by the maximum of 3%.
In Wales, there is no cap governing how much local authorities can raise taxes by from April 2018, with Pembrokeshire County Council among the highest increases after it approved a 12.5% rise for 2018/19.
In Northern Ireland, council tax doesn’t exist.
However, in all three countries, you can apply to your local authority to get a discount of:
- 25% if you’re an adult living on your own, or no one else in your home counts as an adult (which is generally someone aged over 18 who isn’t a full-time college or university student);
- 50% if no one in your home, including you, counts as an adult – for example, those on apprentice schemes. See Gov.uk for a full list;
- up to 50% off second homes or holiday homes;
- 100% off if everyone in your home is a full-time student;
- 100% off for up to six months from getting probate if you’re selling an empty property on behalf of someone who has died; or
- up to 100% off if you’re on a low income or claim certain benefits.
Note that from 1 April 2017, in Wales local authorities will be able to charge a premium of up to 100% of the standard rate of council tax on long-term empty homes and second homes in their areas. In Scotland, where properties have been unoccupied for more than 12 months, the council has the option to charge double the normal rate of council tax, called a surcharge, and in England, new measures were introduced on 28 March 2018 to allow local councils to charge double the rate of council tax on homes left empty for two years or more. Previously they had been allowed to charge a 50% premium since 2013.
You may be able to challenge your council tax band if you think you’re in the wrong one – although be warned that if you ask for a reassessment there’s a chance your local authority could move you into a pricier band rather than a cheaper one.
Ward off water bill rises
Water and sewerage bills rise from April 2018 by an average of 2% in England and Wales and 1.6% in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, the government covers the cost of water charges.
Unfortunately, you can’t switch water and sewerage provider; you’re stuck with the one that services your local area. But there are ways to save.
Tony Smith, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, says: “Water companies now have a range of schemes that can ease the pressure on customers who are already feeling the pinch. But for some of us, simply switching to a water meter can be the most effective way to save money.
“It’s certainly worth checking out if your property has more bedrooms than people living in it. Some customers find they can save more than £100 a year and you usually have at least 12 months to switch back if you change your mind.”
You can use the water meter calculator at Ccwater.org.uk to see if switching could save you money.
In Scotland, there is a charge to get a water meter, so ensure you do the calculations first to see if you’ll save.
The Consumer Council for Water notes customers can also take advantage of water-saving devices, such as eco shower heads and tap inserts, while many water companies offer ‘social tariffs’ that can reduce the bills of eligible low-income customers by as much as 90% in some cases.
Being water efficient, such as ensuring taps aren’t dripping and only boiling the kettle with the water you actually need, will also help keep bills down.
Push down prescription prices
In England, the price of a single prescription rose by 20p from 1 April 2018, from £8.60 to £8.80. But you can beat this rise in the following ways:
- if you buy more than three prescriptions in three months, get a three-month prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) costing £29.10; or
- if you buy more than 12 prescriptions in a year, get a 12-month PPC for £104.
- If you are on a low income, it’s worth checking whether you qualify for help to cover costs under the NHS Low Income Scheme. See NHS.uk for further information.
You can get free prescriptions if you:
- are 60 or over;
- are under 16;
- are under 19 and in full-time education;
- are pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months;
- have a specified medical condition and a valid medical exemption certificate;
- have a continuing physical disability that prevents you from going out without help from another person;
- hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability;
- are an NHS inpatient;
- you or your partner get certain benefits, such as Pension Credit Guarantee Credit; or
- you are entitled to or named on a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or NHS certificate for full help with health costs.
Prescriptions have been free in Northern Ireland since 2010, free in Scotland since 2011, and free in Wales since 2007.
Drill down dental charges
In England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, NHS dental charges typically change each April.
In England, NHS dental charges rose on 1 April 2018, with the cost of a standard band one treatment (such as a check-up) rising by £1 to £21.60. A band two treatment (such as a filling) increased by £2.80 to £59.10 and a band three course (such as a crown) rose by £12.20 to £256.50.
In Wales, the same band system applies, although the charges are lower. From 1 April 2018 band one treatments remain at £14, but band two costs increased by £1 to £45 while band three treatments stay at £195. In Wales you can also get a free dental examination if you’re aged under 25, or are aged 60 and over.
Northern Ireland and Scotland do not operate in a banded system, with each specific treatment carrying its own cost. In Scotland, check-ups are free but patients must pay 80% of the treatment costs (including any x-rays), up to a maximum of £384 – this remains the same as last year.
In Northern Ireland, prices start from £6.74 for a basic check-up. For more complex treatments, patients are required to pay 80% of the cost, up to a maximum of £384. This also remains the same as last year.
However, in certain circumstances across the UK you can get free NHS dental treatment.
The main scenarios where this applies are if when the treatment starts you are:
- under 18;
- under 19 and in full-time education;
- pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months;
- or receiving certain benefits, such as Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, or your partner is eligible for them.
- If you’re on a low income, also check if you qualify for help to cover dental costs under the NHS Low Income Scheme.