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Along with energy bills and mortgages, for many people council tax is their largest single item of monthly expenditure.
Councils do of course need this money to help pay for services, from police to refuse collection, parks and libraries to schools. Nonetheless, in the current cost-of-living crisis it’s an expense that growing numbers of people are struggling to afford.
As if that wasn’t enough, from April millions will see their council tax bills rise by 5%, the maximum allowed by the government. Along with all the other price rises, it’s no surprise many are wondering how on earth they will make ends meet in the months (and years) ahead.
Fortunately, however, there are various ways you may be able to reduce your council tax bill, in some cases to nothing. There are three main methods: household-based, income-based and property-based. I’ll look at each of these in turn.
First and foremost, if you’re a single-person household, you will qualify for a 25% discount on your council tax.
As a matter of interest, this is the only reduction I qualify for myself. My local council applied it automatically after I notified them of my partner’s death a few years ago.
You will also qualify for the 25% discount if the only people you live with are under 18 or aren’t liable for council tax for some other reason (e.g. they are full-time students).
To claim the discount, go to https://www.gov.uk/apply-for-council-tax-discount and enter your postcode. You should then be forwarded to the web page for the council in question, where you can apply.
There are other household-based discounts as well. For example, people with a ‘severe mental impairment’ (SMI) may be eligible for a discount of up to 100%. This could include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MND, severe learning difficulties or someone who has had a disabling stroke.
To qualify, the person will need to be both medically certified as having an SMI and be in receipt of at least one of certain state benefits (e.g. Attendance Allowance).
People with a live-in carer may qualify for up to 50% discount, as live-in carers are exempt from paying council tax. To qualify the carer will need to look after a person with a disability – who is not their partner, spouse or under 18 – for at least 35 hours a week.
Caring for your mother, father, brother, sister, niece, nephew, friend, uncle or aunt does count. The carer must live with the person concerned, and again that person must receive one of a range of benefits.
Finally, people receiving pension credit may qualify for a discount of up to 100%. I talked about pension credit a while ago in this article for Mouthy Money. I highly recommend that anyone of pensionable age who may be eligible applies for it.
Even if you are only awarded a few pounds a week you may qualify for a council tax reduction, and you should also be eligible for further government ‘cost of living’ payments in the months ahead. Receiving pension credit also makes you eligible for other benefits, including free TV licences for over-75s.
You can check if you might be able to get pension credit using this online calculator.
If you’re on a low income and/or claim benefits such as universal credit, you may also qualify for a council tax reduction. This applies both to people who own their home and those who rent. It doesn’t matter whether you’re employed or not.
Every council runs its own scheme and eligibility requirements vary, as do the discounts on offer. Councils typically take into account your household income, number of children and adults, benefits, residency status, and so on. They will also take into consideration your pensions and savings, and housing costs such as rent or a mortgage.
To apply for an income-based reduction in your council tax, again go to https://www.gov.uk/apply-for-council-tax-discount and enter your postcode. You should then be forwarded to the web page for your local council, where you can apply.
You may also be able to get a reduction in your council tax bill due to the property itself.
For example, if your home has been adapted for a person with a disability, you may be eligible to drop a council tax band.
As you may know, every property in the UK is allocated a council tax band based on its value, from Band A (lowest) to Band H (highest). The actual amount you pay in each band will depend on the council concerned, so the benefit of dropping a band will vary from council to council. It will generally be worth somewhere between £100 and £400 a year (more for larger properties).
The types of adaptation might include an extra bathroom or kitchen for the person who is disabled to use, or a room adapted specifically to their needs, e.g. with extra space for a wheelchair or a stairlift to get up to the bedroom.
Finally, if you think your property has been allocated to the wrong council tax band, you can apply for it to be reassessed. This is quite a complex matter and I can’t go into detail about it here. But if your house is in a higher tax band than similar neighbouring houses, you may have a case.
The popular Moneysavingexpert website has an excellent step-by-step guide to checking whether it’s worth asking for a reassessment and, if so, how to apply.
Do just bear in mind that reassessment means exactly what it says, and it’s possible your council tax band could be raised rather than lowered. So it really is vital to ensure you have a good case before proceeding.
As always, if you have any comments or questions about this article, please do post them below.
Nick Daws writes for Pounds and Sense, a UK personal finance blog aimed especially (though not exclusively) at over-fifties.
Photo Credits: Unsplash
Nick Daws is a semi-retired freelance writer and editor. He is the author of over 30 non-fiction books, including Start Your Own Home-Based Business and The Internet for Writers. He lives in Burntwood, Staffordshire, where he has been running his personal finance blog at Poundsandsense.com for over seven years.