We are in our 70s and looking at ways to reduce our yearly costs in the current economic climate.
We believe our property is in the wrong council tax band. The bands were originally set in 1991 and have never been revised.
We have spent days trawling through properties that are the same type as ours, 1930s detached three-beds, and the discrepancies in council tax bands are unbelievable.
A 1930s four-bed detached house on our road in Band E has been virtually rebuilt and extended into a large five bedroom property, but is still in Band E.
There is an ‘improvement indicator’ on the council website which is supposed to show properties that have had extensive work done, but it does not appear there.
Unbelievable Jeff: The couple say there are bigger and more expensive properties on their road, which pay about £500 less per annum in council tax than they do
The Valuation Office Agency will not acknowledge this or any other properties that we have evidenced that are valued at twice the value of our property, in spite of sending about 20 examples to them.
They are asking for sales evidence in our locality from the period around the valuation date of 1 April 1991, which we do not have access to.
Whether the properties are identical or not, it makes no sense for a bigger property, with twice the estimated value of ours to pay about £500 less per annum.
We have asked the Valuation Office Agency for further explanations, but they just reply with virtually the same emails. Other than paying for an expensive independent valuation we seem to be stuck. Can you help us please? R.G, Norfolk
Ed Magnus of This is Money replies: There will be people up and down the country looking for ways to reduce their household costs at the moment.
With a 54 per cent hike in energy bills for the 22million people on default tariffs, as well as soaring fuel and food prices, many households are unable to avoid the cost of living crisis.
Council tax is another household cost that is increasing this year, rising by an average of 3.5 per cent (£67 a year) to an average of £1,966 for Band D properties.
Our reader is suggesting that their own band should go down because other people have extended or improved their homes, which were originally similar to their own.
What is council tax?
Council tax is a domestic property tax charged to households which is collected by local authorities. The money is used to fund council services such as social care, schools and roads.
How much you pay depends on the council tax band assigned to the property you live in.
There are eight valuation bands from A to H (D being the average) which are based on how much the property was worth in 1991. In Wales the bands are based on how much a property was worth in 2003.
However, this would not mean that their house has decreased in value, but that others have gone up.
Our readers refers to the improvement indicator on the official council tax website.
Improvement indicators come into play when the property is being sold or leased – so they will have an impact, but not until the home is put on the market.
The official line from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) is: ‘When we are aware that alterations have been made to a property, there is an improvement indicator noted against the property entry in the published council tax list.
‘We will review the banding, once we are aware that a sale or transfer on a lease has taken place.
‘As each council tax band covers a range of values, the band of a property is not always increased following improvements and a sale or transfer.’
The results of a Freedom of Information request published in January 2018 found that up until the end of 2017, there had been more than 1.6million homes in England and Wales identified by an improvement indicator.
Official records showed that 20 per cent of properties with an improvement indicator were subject to a band increase, whilst 80 per cent had no increase in band.
How to challenge your council tax band
When challenging your council tax banding with the VOA you need to provide up to five similar properties in a lower council tax band than yours. Our reader says they have sent about 20 examples.
These properties must be the same as your property in age, style and design, so you need to ensure you’re comparing properties built in a similar era.
Furthermore, if like our reader, you own a fully detached home, you must be comparing with other detached houses. Comparing it with a mid terraced house or semi-detached home will be unlikely to succeed.
Similar: If you are making a claim to the VOA, remember to make sure that the properties you submit as comparisons are like-for-like
The VOA will also consider properties that are either the same size or larger than yours, not smaller.
The properties you send must also be in the same street or estate if you live in a town or city, or in the same village if you live in the countryside.
You can also use the price of sold properties as evidence. In England, the sales must have taken place between 1 April 1989 and 31 March 1993.
If your property is in Wales you can evidence sales made between 1 April 2001 and 31 March 2005.
If those sale prices are then found to be outside the original council tax banding, you can use this as evidence.
But you will need to give the addresses of the properties, the sale prices and the dates the properties were sold.
The closer the date a property was sold to the valuation date, the more likely the VOA will be able to use this evidence.
It’s worth noting that the VOA will not consider average house price information from websites such as Nationwide House Price Index, Rightmove or Zoopla as strong evidence.
You’ll need to give your evidence when you make a challenge online or by contacting the VOA.
For anyone who also wishes to challenge their council tax , they can do so here.
To help in answering our reader’s query we spoke to Paula Higgins, founder of the HomeOwners Alliance, and Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman.
Be wary of shopping your neighbours to the council
Paula Higgins replies: You can challenge your council tax band but you must provide evidence which you have been gathering.
But be aware that there is a real risk that the assessment may go against your neighbours.
In your situation, it sounds like you have gathered evidence that shows your neighbours are in the wrong band, and not you.
Neighbour trouble: This reader may inadvertently cause their neighbours to start paying more in council tax, if they informs the council that their property has been extended
Your neighbours won’t be happy if you inadvertently get them moved to a higher band while you stay at the same one.
And this doesn’t achieve your goal of reducing your council tax bill. You may have a claim if you can find evidence of similar properties to yours which are in a lower band.
Jeremy Leaf replies: This is very frustrating for you and highlights the inequity of the existing council tax system, which is long due an overhaul.
It seems very unfair that someone with a much bigger house in your road should be paying less council tax than you, and I understand why you want the council to address this issue, particularly given the rising cost of living.
However, as you have found already, this is easier said than done. It is very difficult to find sales evidence going back to 1991, which the council is saying that you must provide.
It may be worth speaking to an old, established local estate agency to find out if they have any sales evidence from then, even if they want to charge some level of fee for this information.
If you know any neighbours who bought their property in the late 1980s or early 1990s, they may also be able to provide relevant information.
Ask around: It is very difficult to find sales evidence going back to 1991 so it might be worth asking your local agent or your neighbours themselves
How else can they get a council tax discount?
Paula Higgins replies: There are other ways of getting a discount on council tax if money is tight.
If you are on a low income or claiming benefits you should contact your local council.
You can get up to a 100 per cent reduction, but this depends on where you live, your circumstances and your household income.
If you are struggling with payments you may be able to spread payments across 12 months, rather than the usual 10.
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