Outraged by your bill? Think before you jump on the council tax bandwagon

A TV show alleged recently that many households overpay. But mounting a challenge is a perilous option

A government website crashed last week. Nothing unusual about that, you might think, but the site belonged to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), the department responsible for the property values that determine our council tax bills. And the reason for the crash was heavy consumer traffic.

Behind all this was the ITV show Tonight with Trevor McDonald, which suggested that thousands of UK homes had been wrongly "banded" - and owners could be due a refund.

In 1993, the programme alleged, in the run-up to the introduction of council tax, there were a number of "drive-by", "kerbside" or "second gear" valuations when agents contracted by the VOA simply drove slowly up and down streets, giving rough values to whole areas at a time - and getting many wrong. An incorrect valuation, over a long period, could mean those homeowners have paid far too much tax.

The right to appeal against council tax bands - the charge made according to the size of the property and its location - is generally limited to the six months after a change of occupancy. But the VOA says it will normally review a band if requested to do so because it has a legal obligation to ensure the lists are accurate. A spokesman adds, though, that the body is satisfied the original bandings were competently calculated.

"When council tax lists were being prepared for introduction on 1 April 1993, 60 per cent of properties were banded by contractors from the private sector and 40 per cent by the VOA.

"The contractors worked under tight VOA supervision, were supplied with details of the properties concerned, and were selected on the basis of their local knowledge. They were required to put properties into one of eight council tax bands, not to carry out detailed valuations."

In the 14 years since, challenges to the bands have amounted to no more than 7 per cent of Britain's 21.1 million homes, VOA figures show.

"Between 1 April 1993 and 31 March 2006, formal challenges that resulted in a reduction (including those determined by tribunal) have been made on 4.3 per cent of total dwellings. Most of these were in the initial years, when the council tax list was first introduced."

The spokesman refuted the show's suggestion that hundreds of thousands of householders could be in line for a big refund.

"We believe the numbers extrapolated are entirely unjustified, though we accept there may be some pockets where we will need to take action."

Next month, the Lyons review commissioned by the Government will report back on whether the banding system should be updated. But in the meantime, should you take any action?

The first point to make is that while you might benefit, you can be rebanded up as well as down - so you could end up paying more.

Bandings are set by the Listing Officer at the VOA, and there are a number of reasons why a particular property's value might need to be updated - either up or down. These include the conversion of a home into flats; physical changes, such as a large extension; and part-demolition (of a conservatory, say).

Significant home improvements are the most likely explanation for why rows of houses that appear similar - the cause of many challenges - have one or two in different bands.

But whether your property was wrongly assessed in the first place is a different matter, and there are several factors to consider if you think you might have a case. First, which band your home is in depends on its value on 1 April 1991 - the official baseline date specified by the Government. General price movements in the housing market since then are not, therefore, a reason for changing your council tax banding.

Second, the bands are so wide that only someone whose home is on the cusp of two bands in 1991 prices is potentially affected.

The way the bands work means that those with the most valuable homes, and accordingly the biggest council tax bills, are least likely to discover that a revaluation will place them in a lower band. In the worst instance, if you are mistaken about the comparability of your house and your neighbours', and yours has superior features such as an extension, you could find yourself allocated to a higher bracket.

Your home may already have been checked for accuracy. After council tax was introduced on 1 April 1993, householders were given until 30 November 1993 to apply for a rebanding - so it is worth seeing if this was done.

If you live in a home built since 1991, you are even less likely to succeed with an appeal. New homes are valued as if they had been on the market in 1991.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

    £65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

    Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world