Whether you're a homeowner or renting a property, council tax is unfortunately a necessary financial evil. It is used to help pay for essential local services such as waste collection, street lighting and of course, the police and fire services.
It is estimated, however, that as many as 400,000 residents could be overpaying without realising. If you think you might be one of them, here's what you need to know.
Are you paying the right amount of council tax?
Council tax is arranged in eight bands in Scotland and England, and nine in Wales, and which band your property is in will depend on its value. Sometimes properties are put into a higher valuation band than they should be, meaning the householder is paying too much. But you can ask your local authority to re-value the property if you believe this to be the case, and you may be entitled to a refund of the extra you've paid. Just remember that there's a chance the council might decide your property belongs in a higher band after re-valuation, and that means you'll have to pay more.
Who is entitled to a discount?
Depending on your circumstances you may be eligible for a council tax discount. For example, if you're the only adult in the household, you should be getting 25 per cent off your bill, and those that share their home with full-time students, live-in carers or someone with a severe mental disability may also be entitled to the discount.
If one member of the household is disabled and is therefore forced to live in a larger property, the Disabled Band Reduction Scheme may discount the annual bill, and those suffering serious financial hardship may also quality for a reduction.
Where the property has been empty and unfurnished for longer than six months, you could be eligible for a discount of anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent, and if you are no longer able to live at home because you need full-time care or are hospitalised, you may not have to pay at all.
Furthermore, if you have a holiday home that is not your main abode, there may be a discount of roughly 10 per cent. And where you are unable to live in the property because of fire, storms, flooding or crime, contact your local authority to see whether a reduction can be offered.
Some people are entirely exempt from paying council tax, whether an owner or a tenant. If the property is occupied exclusively by full-time students or young people under the age of 18, there is no need to pay council tax. Should the property be undergoing major renovations, it will be exempt for 12 months in order for works to be carried out during that time. In the event that the tenant or owner dies, council tax will be waived for six months following the death, and if your home is repossessed, you will no longer need to worry about paying the tax. Those living in armed forces accommodation are also exempt.
If you believe one or more of the above applies to you, it is worth getting in touch with the council to see if you are eligible for a reduction in council tax. It could make all the difference.
Have you recently discovered you were in the wrong council tax band? Leave your comments below...