How to get a council tax reduction

Council taxes have risen almost across the board, but some people can get a council tax reduction. We explain who can possibly get hundreds off their yearly bill

Red plastic house on top of a bisected pound coin
(Image credit: © Getty images)

Households across the country were subject to a council tax hike in April, compounding the already heavy burden caused by the cost of living crisis.

But some people could be eligible for discounts ranging from 25% to even the whole bill, depending on your circumstances. Here’s what you need to know about getting a council tax reduction, what you can apply for, and how much you can expect to save.

Can I get a council tax reduction?

Council tax pays for services such as rubbish collections or your local library, and last year, local authorities were granted new powers to raise the rates they charge residents by up to 5% - and council tax increases in London could be higher still.

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These changes mean the average bill for a typical band D went up from £1,966 to £2,064 a year, assuming a 5% rise.

However, debt charity Turn2Us has previously warned that millions of households could be missing out on discounts on their bills, unaware of discounts available.

Here are some of the discounts you could be entitled to and how to apply.

Check your council tax band

A property’s council tax band is set by the government’s Valuation Office Agency (VOA) based on how much it was worth on 1 April 1991 for England and Scotland, and 1 April 2003 for Wales.

Bands range from A, the cheapest, to the more expensive H category and are based on factors such as the property’s character, layout, location and size.

But your home’s band may have changed since 1991 and could even have been valued incorrectly in the first place.

MoneySavingExpert website claimed 400,000 homes could be in the wrong band. See our article on how to check your council tax band.

One of the best ways to check if you are in the correct council tax band is to see what your neighbours are paying.

It may be a tricky question to ask, but you can check yours and other council tax bands online by entering an address and postcode on the website.

You should be in the same band as homes of a similar size, style and age.

It may be worth challenging your council tax band and applying for a reduction through the VOA if you find it is different from your neighbours’.

You will need to provide addresses of five similar properties in a lower tax band to yours and house price evidence to show what your property was worth between April 1989 and March 1993 in England, and April 2001 and March 2005 in Wales.

House price data can be found using the Land Registry or sources such as the Nationwide House Price Index.

But be careful, as if the VOA finds you should be paying more it could increase the council tax bill for your property and those in the same street.

If you are in the correct band, you may still be eligible for a council tax reduction.

Single person discount

An adult living on their own can get a 25% council tax discount.

The discount also applies if certain people you live with are “disregarded” or exempt by local authorities when working out the bill.

This includes under-18s living with you, or someone in education or training, such as a university student.

The reduction will also apply if you live with someone who has learning difficulties or a severe mental impairment.

A council tax bill can also be reduced by 50% if everyone living in a property is disregarded.

This includes members of the armed forces and people living in care homes.

Do students pay council tax?

Households, where everyone is a full-time student at university or college, don’t have to pay any council tax.

To count as a full-time student, you must be on your course for at least one year and be studying for at least 21 hours a week.

If you’re studying for a qualification up to A level and you’re under 20, your course must last at least three months and involve at least 12 hours of study a week.

How much council tax discount can retirees get?

Once you pass the state retirement age, those claiming the guarantee element of Pension Credit may get a full council tax discount.

This will only apply if you don’t live with someone who is eligible for council tax.

If you don’t get the guarantee credit but have a low income and less than £16,000 in savings, you may still be eligible for support.

Empty homes and council tax payments

Council tax rules on empty properties differ depending on what is happening with the home.

Local authorities can give a discount of up to 50% on an empty property, but after two years they can add a premium of up to 100% on top of the normal bill in England and Wales.

This rises to 200% in England after five years.

There is no premium to pay if the empty property is an annex.

You may get a full exemption if you are carrying out major home improvements on an empty property or building a new one.

There is also a council tax exemption on an empty property if you are selling it on behalf of an owner who has died.

Councils won’t send a bill until you get probate, plus you may get a further six-month exemption after that if the property remains empty and in the name of the person who died.

This can be helpful if you are facing delays in selling the property.

Second homes and council tax discounts

Second homeowners will need to pay council tax on the property.

Some local authorities may offer a discount at their own discretion though if no one lives there permanently.

Most holiday-home owners could get a 10% discount on council tax, according to consumer watchdog Which?.

People provided with accommodation as part of their work, such as a pub landlord or members of the clergy, may get a 50% discount on their second home.

Council tax reductions

Certain groups could be moved into lower council tax bands rather than getting a discount.

There is a disabled band reduction scheme if you live in a larger property than you would need if you or another occupant were not disabled.

You’ll have to show that you have either an extra bathroom, kitchen or other room that you need for the disabled person or extra space inside the property for using a wheelchair.

The property must be the main home of at least one disabled person.

Households on a low income or certain benefits may also qualify for a reduction, but the eligibility criteria will vary by local authority.

How to apply for a council tax discount

Your local authority may not automatically know you are eligible for a council tax discount.

You will need to contact your local authority directly to explain the exemption you qualify for and evidence may be required.

Enter your postcode on the website to find details of your local authority.

It must decide within two months after making an application if you are eligible for a reduction.

You can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal Service if you are unhappy with the decision.

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Marc Shoffman
Contributing editor

Marc Shoffman is an award-winning freelance journalist specialising in business, personal finance and property. His work has appeared in print and online publications ranging from FT Business to The Times, Mail on Sunday and The i newspaper. He also co-presents the In For A Penny financial planning podcast.