Are you paying too much council tax?

We take it for granted that our council tax bills have been properly calculated and assessed to ensure that we are paying the necessary amount.

Are you in the right council tax band
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Yet many householders are paying too much and have been for some years. This is because, such was the rush to get each house valued and assigned a council tax band back in 1991, that the estate agents and others tasked with the job often made valuations with only a casual glance at each property.

Since many of those responsible made valuations without even getting out of the car, they became known as "second gear valuations". Though the Welsh assembly has since reassessed homes, in Scotland and England there has been no such undertaking.

But with the cost of living currently soaring and many of us feeling the pinch, now more than ever it is worth checking that you are in the correct band... and how to get a refund if you have been overpaying.

How do I check if I'm overpaying?
Council tax bands range from A to H, depending on the value of your property. Each year, the council decides what bands B and D should pay and the others are calculated proportionally.

Before you can reclaim, your first step is to find out whether similar properties in your immediate area are paying less. Of course, you'll need to be sure that the two properties are as close in size and value as possible - once you have established that this is the case, visit the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) website for properties in England and Wales, and the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA) for those who live in Scotland.

These sites list the council tax band for every property in the England, Wales and Scotland. If your neighbours are paying less for a property of the same size and value then you may be able to appeal.

However, it is important to do a further check - if you appeal the valuation and find that your neighbour's property was in the wrong band, then their bill will go up and you will be no better off.

Valuing your house, then, is the second step you must take before claiming. If you bought the property after 1991, then has a simple calculator that will enable you to find the value of your house by entering the price you paid and the date of the sale.

If you bought before 1991, find an estimated price by visiting a site such as Right Move, which offers historic sales price information for properties sold in your street since 2000.

Though the calculator only offers only an estimate of the 1991 price, if this also indicates that you are paying too much, you will have a stronger case when it comes to appealing.

How to appeal?
Once you have decided that you are overpaying, challenge the decision with the Local Listing Officer, Local Assessor or online at either VOA or SAA, who will explain how your council tax band was decided. You can then offer reasons why you believe the valuation is wrong and how it should be altered. For those in England and Wales there is an official list citing reasons for re-valuation and if possible, you should include one such reason for the best chance of successfully appealing.

Often those who have been in the property for longer than six months are told they are unable to challenge the banding but with a little perseverance, they should investigate.

Getting a repayment
If your council tax band appeal is successful, not only will you pay less each year, but in some cases the repayment is backdated to when you moved into the property so it's worth checking whether this is the case.

But be warned - doing your research before appealing is essential. If you insist upon a "reassessment" and your council tax payments are found to be too low, you'll be forced to stump up more each month.