Council tax bills are set to increase by 3% this year, equivalent to an extra 79p a week.
Although this above-inflation rise is unlikely to go down well with hard-pressed households, it is still the smallest increase in more than 10 years. A 3% increase will bring the average council tax bill per household to £1,414 for 2009/10.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, originally predicted bills would have to increase by 3.5% this year, but has now revised this forecast. It says local authorities are tweaking their budgets to help reduce the impact of higher bills on credit-crunched families.
Margaret Eaton, chairman of the LGA, says: “Money is tight for everyone and nobody likes paying more council tax and that is why town halls are making enormous efforts to keep bills down. Councils are responding to the fact that people are feeling the pinch and are revising down this year’s council tax rises.”
Reduce your council tax bill
One of the easiest ways to reduce your council tax bill is to make sure you are in the right tax band. When the council tax system was established in 1993, properties were placed in bands from A to H based on valuations made in 1991.
However, properties in England and Scotland haven't been revalued since this time so it’s worth checking to see if you have moved into a different band. If you can prove your property is in a higher band than it should be, you can reclaim overpayments, often backdated to 1993.
Enter your postcode at the Valuation Office Agency website to find out your council tax band, then check the bands of neighbours with similar houses to yours.
If you do believe your banding is unfair, contact your local valuation office for a proposal form. There is an official list of reasons for revaluation available on the Valuation Office Agency's website, so try to quote one of these when making your claim. Under certain conditions you may propose to alter your council tax band; reasons include converting your home into flats, adapting it for a disabled person or if part of your property has been demolished (for example, knocking down a garage).
Another way to reduce your council tax bill is to take advantage of available discounts or even check if you qualify for complete exemption.
If you are the only adult living in your house, are disabled or currently studying then you could be eligible for a discount. People on low incomes may also qualify for Council Tax Benefit.
Council tax is based on at least two adults living in a property, so if you live alone or with children then you could claim a discount of 25% off your bill. Or, if the property isn’t your main home, then a discount may also apply, potentially again 25%.
If you live with one or more adults who are students or exempt from paying council tax for another reason then you will only have to pay council tax based on one adult living in a home.
Other people who might be considered for council tax reduction include apprentices, resident hospital patients, the severely mentally impaired and carers.
If you think you might be eligable for a council tax discount, you should contact your local authority.