Earlier this month we entered the new financial year, with Council Tax high on the agenda. Some councils boasted about freezes, research groups complained about savage rises, and the rest of us were just a little confused by the whole thing.
In truth, Council Tax is up there with sprouts, MOTs and queueing among the most frustrating things in everyday life, so here's a brief guide to some of the changes in 2013/14 and a few tips to make Council Tax as painless as possible. You might even save some money!
Changes for 2013/14
Back in October 2012, the government put £450 million aside to help councils freeze council tax bills for the 2013/14. Good news...for some. Now the figures are out, over 250 local authorities have frozen or even reduced their bills, including 27 of the 33 in London. To find out whether your council falls in to this bracket, you will need to visit their website. A comprehensive list can be found here. This year is also the first that councils are allowing residents to pay in 12 monthly instalments rather than 10, although the deadline to register for this service has passed in most cases.
Tip 1: Set up a Direct Debit
Direct Debit is by far the most prudent way to pay your council tax bill. Firstly, it eliminates the chances of being stung by any late payment charges (we can all get a bit forgetful sometimes) and it also allows you to spread the cost of your bill over the course of the year - ideal if you're feeling the pinch a little. Even if you have the money in the bank, you will be better off earning interest on your savings whilst paying in instalments by Direct Debit.
Tip 2: Find out if you are in the right band
Many homeowners firmly believe they are in the wrong council tax band, but choose to grumble quietly about it rather than finding out for themselves. Council tax bands are based on home values from 1991 rather than today, so there are lots of anomalies in the system. You can check your council tax band easily here, and by comparing it to those of your neighbours' you will gain a clearer indication as to whether you are paying too much or too little.
Tip 3: Think before appealing
Appealing your council tax band probably seems like a brilliant idea, but it does come with a big caveat. You may well win and see your band lowered, but bear in mind that a review could also see your band go up rather than down. Because of this, it's best to do your research and not to appeal on the off-chance. The Valuation Office Agency will ultimately decide your fate.
Tip 4: Find out if you are eligible for discounts
There are various circumstances in which Council Tax discounts are available. The most common of these is the 25% single occupancy discount, which applies to homes where only one person pays the council tax. As well as people who live alone, this discount also includes those who live with a full-time college or university student or single parents with children under the age of eighteen.
Tip 5: Contact the council before they contact you
All councils operate slightly differently, and some are far more receptive than others. From personal experience, if you are moving in to a new home it is prudent to immediately contact your council and inform them of your moving date. As i've found, they may be organised and send you all of the relevant info, or they might take two months to respond and send you a semi-threatening letter stating "If you do not pay within seven days, you will have seven more days to pay". Keeping copies of all written correspondence will stand you in good stead if an issue arises.
For more handy information on everything from finding your ideal home to dealing with landlords, you can visit WhatNewHomes .