Households could see an above-inflation increase in their council tax bill this spring, as most local authorities can hike bills by up to 5%.
The news will come as a blow to households already struggling with high energy prices, record interest rates and the broader cost of living crisis. Several everyday household utilities are also set to see bill hikes this April.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) confirmed on Monday (5 February) that English local authorities will be able to increase the levy by up to 5% for the 2024/25 financial year. Rises above this limit will have to be put to a local vote. But several cash-strapped councils have been given special dispensation to bring in bigger rises without facing a referendum.
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The 5% hike is made up of a maximum 3% rise for core council tax, plus another 2% if the council has adult social care responsibilities. The changes mean the average Band D household will have an annual bill of £2,168 - a rise of £103 compared to the current financial year.
Scotland is freezing council tax - although monthly bills will still rise as a result of increases to water bills north of the border. Meanwhile, the Welsh government has not set a limit for council tax hikes. It means several areas are in line for higher bill increases than in England.
Where will the biggest council tax rises be?
So far, dozens of English councils are set to implement the maximum allowed increase from April 2024. These include Buckinghamshire Council, Dorset Council, Dudley Council and Suffolk County Council.
However, there are four effectively bankrupt councils that have been given special dispensation by central government to go further without triggering a public vote. Birmingham City Council, Slough Borough Council, Thurrock Council and Woking Borough Council can all hike their rates by up to 10%.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned steep hikes will be necessary as its own analysis shows English councils face a £4 billion funding gap over the next two years. Before the 2024/25 local government funding settlement was confirmed, the LGA’s resources board chair, Councillor Pete Marland, said: “Councils have led the way at finding ways to save money and reduce costs and this work will continue, but they will still need to raise council tax this year and many will need to make further savings to local services in order to plug remaining funding gaps.”
Announcing the new local government financial settlement, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove played down these concerns. He said: “This settlement, and the changes we have made to address concerns raised through the consultation, will provide local authorities with the tools to support their local communities, continue to reform their services for the long-term, and to help communities prepare for the future.”
In Wales, where council tax is a responsibility of the devolved government in Cardiff, several councils are proposing even larger hikes. These range from 6.7% (Caerphilly County Borough Council) to 9.8% (Cyngor Sir Ynys Môn or Anglesey County Council).
How can I save on my council tax bill?
You may be able to make a large saving by checking your council tax band. As well as seeing how much you are currently paying, you’ll be able to check whether you’re in the right band. If you aren’t in the correct bracket, you could be due a large refund. Your council tax will also be reduced.
You might also be able to get a discount or reduction on your council tax bill. All councils provide support for people who have reached state pension age. It’s worth contacting your local authority to find out what you’re eligible for.
If you own a home that’s empty and unfurnished, your council can apply a discount of up to 50%. But if the property remains empty for more than two years, you can find yourself paying a surcharge on top of your council tax. In Scotland, the time limit is 12 months.
Second homes used to qualify for a discount on council tax bills. The exact reduction depended on your local authority. However, councils across England and Scotland will be able to charge the owners of holiday homes a premium of up to 100% above their band’s basic council tax rate from April 2024. It comes after new rules were introduced in a bid to increase the availability of housing stock. Wales has had similar rules in place since 2017.
Discounts are usually available if you’re the only adult living in your home, or you live with someone who is registered as disabled. Students, apprentices and live-in carers (who are not the main resident’s spouse or civil partner) can be exempted from council tax.
If you’re a low-income earner, or live with someone who is, you could also qualify for a council tax reduction of up to 100%. The exact criteria for this discount varies from council to council. You can also claim relief if you find yourself in difficult circumstances - for example, you’ve lost your job. Eligibility and discount rates vary between councils.
Ultimately, the best way to find out what you’re eligible for is to find your local council and get in touch with them directly.
Oojal has achieved a Master's degree in International Journalism from Cardiff University. She has written for several Newsquest dailies, Voice Wales, DIVA Magazine and Sony Music. Her work has revolved around covering critical social issues, such as the cost of living crisis, student poverty, industrial action, LGBTQIA+ issues and mental health. When she's not immersed in all things editorial, you can either find her walking around the streets of Cardiff, at Cineworld watching the latest film, or scrolling through cat reels wondering when she might bring one home.
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