Council Tax: what it is, what it costs and how to save money

Council Tax is an annual fee you pay to your local council. The cost is set by your council and goes towards funding local services. Find out more about Council Tax, how to make sure you’re not paying more than you have to and what to do if you’re struggling to pay.

What is Council Tax?

Living in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, you have to pay domestic rates, instead of Council Tax. Find out more on the NI Direct website.

Council Tax is an annual fee that your local council charges you for the local services it provides, like rubbish collection and libraries. Normally you pay it in 10 monthly instalments, followed by two months of not making any payments.

How much Council Tax you pay depends on:

  • your personal circumstances
  • which valuation band your property is in
  • how much the council needs to fund its services.

What does Council Tax pay for?

If you’ve been overpaying on your Council Tax for years, you might be entitled to a refund worth thousands of pounds.

Local services are funded by Council Tax. This includes:

  • police and fire services
  • leisure and recreation projects such as upkeeping parks and sports centres
  • libraries and education services
  • rubbish and waste collection and disposal
  • transport and highway services including street lighting and cleaning, and road maintenance
  • environmental health and trading standards
  • administration and record keeping, like marriages, deaths and birth, and local elections.

Council Tax isn’t used to pay for health services.

How much is my Council Tax?

The amount of Council Tax you pay depends on the value of your home and where you live.

Find your local authority and how much you need to pay using the links below:

Each of the links above will get you to your local council’s website.

From there you can find information on Council Tax.

You might also be able to contact them directly and ask.

Can I get a reduction?

You might be able to get a reduction on your Council Tax if:

  • you’re on a low income
  • you’re a student or you live with students
  • you live alone or are the only adult in your home
  • you get certain benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit.
  • you or someone you live with has a disability and as a result needs to live in a larger home
  • you’re severely mentally impaired or living with someone who is
  • you’re a care leaver in Scotland, where you’ll be exempt from Council Tax between the ages of 18 until you turn 26
  • you live in certain counties in England and Wales and are a care leaver
  • you’re a member of the armed forces, depending on your circumstances
  • you’ve moved into a care home or hospital
  • in prison – unless you’re serving a prison sentence for failing to pay Council Tax.
Find out more about getting a council tax reduction in Wales and Scotland.

Paying your Council Tax over 12 months instead of 10

Most councils allow you to choose to spread your Council Tax payments over 12 months instead of the usual 10. Making the same payment every month might make it easier for you to budget.

Just ask your council if they offer this option.

What is my Council Tax band?

England and Scotland have eight Council Tax bands ranging from A (the cheapest) to H. A house’s Council Tax band is based on its rateable value – the more expensive the property, the higher the Council Tax band.

Wales has nine bands – from 1 (the highest) to 9.

If your home is in a higher valuation band than it should be, you’re probably paying more Council Tax than you should.

How to get your home’s Council Tax band reviewed

Up to 400,000 homes in England and Scotland are in the wrong Council Tax bands. Welsh homes were more recently evaluated and are less likely to be in the wrong band.

If you think you’re overpaying Council Tax because your home is in the wrong Council Tax band, you might be entitled to a refund.

To get this refund you’ll need to ask for a review.

But remember: the review might lead to your council putting your property in a higher band.

To find out how to get your Council Tax band reviewed, visit MoneySavingExpert.

Complaints about Council Tax

If you have a complaint about your Council Tax, you’ll normally have to complain to the council first. They should take no longer than 12 weeks to resolve the problem.

But if you’re unhappy with the outcome, or they’re taking too long to resolve your complaint, you might be able to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.

If you miss a Council Tax payment

Falling behind – even by one monthly payment – can be quite serious when it comes to Council Tax. If you don’t act quickly you could be asked to pay the full year’s payment upfront.

So, if your Council Tax was £167 a month, but you missed the year’s first payment, that would suddenly turn into a debt of £1,671.

The most important thing is to get in touch with your council as soon as you think you might miss a payment, as this increases the chance of them being able to work with you.

Some will let you make the payment a little late, so you can carry on making future payments as scheduled. Others might be able to increase your future payments to make up for the missed payments.

If you’re on a low income you may even get a reduction on your bill. It varies by council and individual cases. If you contact your council as soon as you’ve missed a payment, they will often help you.

What happens if I don’t deal with my Council Tax debt?

Not paying your Council Tax and ignoring the letters you’re sent can quickly turn into a serious problem.

First you’ll get a reminder from the council about two weeks after you miss a payment. If you pay within seven days, you don’t need to do anything else. The debt will be clear and you’ll be able to continue paying your Council Tax in instalments.

If you don’t pay within seven days of the reminder or if it’s the third time you’ve been late with Council Tax payments that year, the council will send you a ‘final notice’.

The final notice will tell you to pay all of your Council Tax for the rest of the year within seven days.

If you don’t pay within seven days of the final notice your council will usually apply to the courts for permission to collect the debt from you - this is known as a ‘liability order’.

After this your council can get your employer to pay your unpaid Council Tax directly from your wages. They can also apply to take money from certain benefits, including

  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit.

If this isn’t possible, the council might send a bailiff to your home. You’ll have to pay court costs and possibly bailiff fees as well as your debt, which can add hundreds of pounds to your bill.

If you’re in England, it’s also still possible to receive a prison sentence for getting behind with Council Tax.

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