Why pay to have your council tax band checked? Do it for free
Firms are cashing in on householders who are due a refund after being wrongly listed.
No win, no fee claims management firms are increasingly targeting the council tax regime with the aim of gathering large fees. These firms, often posing as "consumer champions", are writing and cold-calling householders to try to persuade them to sign up to their council tax rebate services. But the services on offer aren't anything you can't take on alone ... or for free.
The problem is that, in 1993, when the then government launched its new council tax system and placed every house into a valuation band, it failed to check all the properties properly, resulting in many being put in the wrong tax band. In Wales, all the homes were reassessed in 2005, but in England and Scotland the old, flawed valuations are still in place.
The difference in price could be significant. In Hackney, east London, the council is charging £1,595 for band E properties, but only £1,305 for band D. A reclassification could save you £290 per year, with a refund dated back to when you moved in, or to 1993, whichever is the later.
However, companies are popping up taking the opportunity to cash in before the Government gets around to revaluating council tax, scheduled for around 2015. Most ask for a fee of 25 per cent plus VAT (totalling 30 per cent) of any refund, but you can do this all by yourself by approaching the Valuation Office Agency (VOA).
"If a taxpayer believes they are in the wrong band, then all they have to do is contact us, explain why they think it is incorrect and we will review the banding. This service is free," says Jonathan Hall from the VOA. "If we agree that a band is inaccurate then we will change it. We will also review, and where necessary amend, the bands of other similar neighbouring properties."
Not only does this mean that these firms are offering a service you can undertake yourself at no cost, but it also involves giving them authorisation to act on your behalf. This may mean all the correspondence in relation to the investigation and/or refund is sent directly to them.
The service being offered is legal, but cold-callers should always be treated with caution. Earlier this year, West Yorkshire Trading Standards prosecuted the disgraced businessman Jack Darrell Henry, who was ordered to pay £12,500 in prosecution costs and a further £455 compensation to victims after admitting misleading customers of his Huddersfield-based business Council Tax Review. He was charging an up-front fee of up to £185, and then promised his customers – some of whom were elderly – thousands of pounds-worth in rebates, despite often failing to approach the VOA at all, or submitting such poor paperwork that it was rejected immediately.
"This type of service it not illegal provided it's done properly," says trading standards officer David Lodge. "The problem was the way they were selling it, effectively making misleading statements and guarantees. In some cases, with unsuccessful applications, they weren't honouring refunds, or taking people's money and not doing anything with it."
If you are concerned that you're in the wrong band, compare it to your neighbours', but if they are different, don't immediately apply for a reclassification, as their property may simply be worth less, particularly if you have made improvements, such as an extension.
A mystery shopping call to one of the claims firms, Manchester-based Randall & Vickers (R&V), reveals how easy it is to put in a claim yourself: "We send you a form and you let us know how many rooms you have and any other space, we then look at comparables in your area and send a report to the VOA," said an R&V employee.
Even if the VOA rule you are in the correct valuation band, there could be other ways to save money, for example, if anyone in your house is disabled your bill could be lowered by one band and if you live alone you get a 25 per cent discount on your bill. Even if you share your home with another you could still be eligible for the discount if they are exempt from council tax and therefore not counted as a second resident. This list includes an apprentice studying for a recognised qualification, someone under 25 in approved training or a full-time student. You can also claim a discount for a second home.
And as Jasmine Birtles, founder of Moneymagpie.com, says: "You may also qualify for council tax benefit. Again it's simple to get this – just phone your local council".
Expert View: Jasmine Birtles, MoneyMagpie.com
"Not only do claims companies try to get money for doing something you could easily do yourself, but they often do it badly and charge you for making a mess.
"I have re-banded my home in the past and it was very easy, no more than filling in a simple form. The advice is to be wary of any unsolicited calls and letters trying to sell you something or allegedly save you money. If they need to call you, it's most likely a bad product."
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
iJobs Money & Business
$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer Office...
$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...
Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...
Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...
Day In a Page
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens