Council Tax Bills Explained
12th January 2022
Your Council Tax, as you’d guess from the name, is a payment that goes to your local council. It’s designed to pay for local services, and came into force back in 1993 after the old Community Charge system (“poll tax”) was abolished. The amount you pay is supposed to reflect the market value of your home, so people with more expensive properties are expected to chip in more toward services in the community.
When do I have to pay my Council Tax?
All being well, you’ll get your Council Tax bill on or before the 30th of April each year. If your finances are up to it, you can actually choose to pay the whole thing off in one go. For most people, though, the payments are spread out over the year.
Usually, your total Council Tax charge is split into 10 chunks, which you pay monthly between April in one year to January the next. You get a 2-month holiday from payments in February and March this way. Depending on your council and circumstances, you might be able to make extra payments rather than taking those 2 months off. You’ll still end up paying the same amount, but the individual payments will be a little lower this way since you’re spreading them slightly thinner across the year.
As for how you pay, Direct Debt’s probably the most common way. Some people do still pay by cheque, debit card or even cash, though. It shouldn’t make any difference to the total charge either way.
Am I paying too much Council Tax?
Council Tax charges are rated by “bands” from A-H. The band you’re put into depends on the value of your property as of the 1st of April 1991 (for England and Scotland) or the 1st of April 2003 (for Wales). If you think you’re in the wrong band, it’s possible to challenge the decision via the Valuation Office Agency. This can happen, for instance, if your property’s been changed, demolished or is being used for different purposes than before.
There are other reasons why your Council Tax charge might be too high, though, even if you’re in the right band – which brings us to...
How to check if you should be paying less Council Tax
It’s possible to get a discount or reduction on your Council Tax charge, if you qualify for them. There are actually quite a few situations that can earn you a drop in your payments, such as:
- If you’re living alone you can get a 25% discount. When you apply for this, you can actually ignore anyone who’s under 18, along with 18-19 year olds who are still in education on the 30th of April and anyone you’re still entitled to Child Benefit for. There are also rules allowing people in training, temporarily away or suffering from mental impairment to be disregarded, so it’s worth getting into the details of your situation to make sure you aren’t overpaying for people who don’t count for Council Tax.
- Even if you’re living with someone who isn’t disregarded, if they’re on a low income or getting benefits you might qualify for a “second adult rebate”. The rules around this can be fiddly, but it’s worth checking if you qualify.
- Holiday homes, second homes and empty properties can all sometimes entitle you to a reduced rate of Council Tax. Again, check on your local council’s website to see what their rules are.
- If your property has an extra kitchen, bathroom or other facilities designed to meet the needs of a disabled person, you might get a reduction to your Council Tax rate. You may have to provide some evidence to the council to claim this, obviously.
- If you’re on a low income yourself, you could qualify for a Council Tax Reduction (CTR). All your relevant circumstances (like whether you’re living alone, for instance) will factor into the final calculation. If you’re getting benefits, they might also affect how much of a reduction you can get. It can make a difference whether you’re over the State Pension age or not, too.
How can I apply for a Council Tax Reduction?
The first place to check if you can claim a Council Tax Reduction is the government website. You’ll need to enter your post code, then you’ll be directed to your local council’s site for more information.
What help can I get if I’m having trouble paying?
If you’re struggling to make your Council Tax payments, your local council may be able to help. Depending on your situation, you might be able to arrange a payment holiday or a plan to get you back on track. You should also make sure to claim any reductions you qualify for.
Of course, one of the main things you can do to stop yourself running into Council Tax trouble is make sure HMRC doesn’t have its hand too deep into your pocket in the first place. Claiming back the tax you’re owed is Job One when you’re having difficulty keeping ahead of your debts. Talk to the UK’s top tax refund experts at RIFT about getting back what you’re owed or check our free Tax Refund calculator to find out.