If you think you’re paying too much council tax, it may be because you’re in a higher band than you should be.

The average council tax bill currently works out at around £1,898 a year (or £158 a month). That’s for a band D property in England, but if your local authority charges higher council tax or you own a more expensive property, you could be paying a lot more.

What many people don’t realise is that there may be a way of cutting your bill – by challenging the council tax band your property is in. Government figures show that in the last 12 years over half a million people have successfully challenged their council tax band. But what does it involve?

When you can challenge your council tax band

You can’t simply challenge your council tax band because you think you’re paying too much, but the council does have an obligation to make sure your property is in the right band.

Everyone has an automatic right to challenge their council tax band within the first six months of moving into their property. After that period, you can still appeal but the process is different. If you want to appeal against your council tax band in the first six months you can ring 0845 602 1507 for England and 0845 600 1748 for Wales to be put through to your local valuation office. In Scotland, there’s no centralised number to contact, but you can find a list of valuation authorities on the Scottish Assessors website.

You don’t have to pay anything to challenge your council tax band and it’s something you can easily do yourself.

Beware companies that offer council tax rebates for a fee. Don’t take these companies up on their offer as you can challenge your band yourself. There are also some fraudsters who are contacting people, pretending to be from the council, saying they’re due a refund because they’ve been paying too much council tax. In this case the fraudsters are after ID information (such as name and date of birth). Don’t give them any information.

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How to challenge your council tax band

There are two main ways you can challenge your band:

Ask for a review

All you have to do in this case is to come up with evidence that your neighbours are in a different band to you (assuming that they live in similar properties) and the local valuation office must get back to you quickly.

You can easily check your council tax band in England or Wales at Gov.uk. In Scotland you have to use the Scottish Assessors Association website (saa.gov.uk) to check your band. You can also check the band of neighbouring properties to make sure you’re all in the same band.

Make a ‘proposal’

You can also challenge your council tax bill by making a ‘proposal’ (it’s simply the official term for a challenge when you don’t fall into the category for asking for a review). There are over half a dozen different reasons why you can make a proposal, including having moved into the property in the last six months, if the property was altered to accommodate someone with disabilities or if there’s been a change in your area that could affect property values – for example a road or supermarket appears nearby.

If you’re not sure how to proceed, contact the Valuation Office Agency on 03000 501 501 if you’re in England, or 03000 505 505 if you’re in Wales.

Providing evidence

Check with your neighbours to see if they are in the same council tax band as you. If you’re in the same band as your neighbours but you believe that either you alone or you and your neighbours are in the wrong band, you’ll need to come up with evidence that the valuations weren’t accurate in 1991. In this case you need to come up with evidence of the price your property would have sold for on the valuation date.

If you purchased your property after 1991, you can use the price you paid for it, and the date you bought it. If you’re renting or bought your home prior to 1991, you’ll need to find an estimate of how much your property is worth.

Property websites such as Rightmove and Zoopla provide details of when properties were last sold and at what price, so you can use them to find the sale prices of similar properties to yours.

Once you’ve done that, you can use Nationwide’s house price index calculator to work out what it’s approximate value was in 1991. You can then compare this to the bands shown below, to see whether your property should be in a different band.

The council tax banding system varies depending on whether you live in England, Scotland or Wales.

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Council tax bands in England and Scotland

These bands came into effect on April 1, 1993 and the band you are in is based on the price your property would have been sold at on April 1, 1991.

BandEngland property value (1991)Scotland property value (1991)
AProperties under £40,000Properties under £27,000
HOver £320,000Over £212,000

Wales had a revaluation of council tax bands which came into force on April 1, 2005. The band you are in is based on the price your property would have been sold at on April 1, 2003. This means council tax band errors are less likely than in other parts of the UK.

Northern Ireland uses a different system entirely, so this information is not relevant to anyone living there.

What may happen next

Once you’ve challenged your council tax band and provided evidence, if the valuation office agrees that your property is in too high a band it will write to you and tell you.

There are three possible outcomes:

1) It agrees that your property is in too high a band

Your property will be moved to a lower band and you will also receive a refund of the council tax you’ve paid going back to the date you moved into the property.

2) It disagrees that your property is in too high a band

If this is the case, you can appeal to an independent valuation tribunal. There are details on how to do this on the VOA and SAA websites.

3) It believes your property is in too low a band

If that’s the case, you can still appeal – as above – but if your appeal is rejected you have to start paying the higher council tax immediately. Normally if your property moves into a higher council tax band such as, for example, if you’ve extended it, you don’t pay the higher level of council tax until you’ve sold it.

You must therefore be confident that your property is in a lower band before submitting your application, or there’s a risk that you (and your neighbours) could end up facing steeper council tax bills.