MILLIONS of Britons are struggling to pay their bills due to rising prices, and the pandemic has hit many people’s finances.
According to Citizen’s Advice, one in seven of us have fallen behind on payments for essentials like energy, water, telephone and rent.
Council tax is one of the household bills that many are grappling with – and it’s even before and increases in April that could see them rise by as much as 5%.
But it is an invoice you should always try to avoid falling behind with, as the consequences of non-payment are the most serious.
Council tax is considered a priority bill, as non-payment may result in legal action or even imprisonment.
Local authorities also have the power to send bailiffs to your home – and the ban on bailiff visits during the pandemic has ended.
You can pay council tax in monthly installments over 10 or 12 months, but if you fall behind, you may be asked to pay the full balance at once.
Struggling households get help with council tax bills and if you’re worried about falling behind, it’s worth checking out what you might be getting.
If you cannot pay your residence tax bill, it is better to inform the municipality immediately rather than to postpone it.
Apply for housing tax assistance
You may be eligible for Council Tax Assistance (sometimes called Council Tax Reduction) if you are on a low income or receive certain benefits.
You don’t need to own your home to apply for council tax assistance, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re working or unemployed.
The amount you could get a reduction on your bill depends on your personal circumstances, including:
- Where you live
- Your situation (e.g. income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
- Your household income – this includes savings, pensions and your partner’s income
- If your children live with you
- If other adults live with you
You can also get a backdated reduction in your council tax bill, but again, this depends on your personal circumstances and where you live.
As each council offers different support, you will need to contact your local authority directly for more information, including how to apply.
Reductions and exemptions from housing tax
There are a number of reductions and exemptions you may be entitled to if you are struggling to pay your council tax.
For example, if you live alone or with someone who is not considered an adult, you will receive a 25% discount on your total annual bill.
You’ll also typically get a 50% discount if no one living in your home, including you, is considered an adult.
Plus, you won’t have to pay anything if everyone in your household is a full-time student.
Who does not count as an adult?
- Children under 18
- Full-time students, mostly apprentices and trainees under 25
- Nursing students
- British Council Registered Foreign Language Assistants
- People with severe mental disabilities, such as learning disabilities or autism
- Live-in caregivers who are caring for someone who is not their partner, spouse or child under 18
Contact your town hall to check what help you can claim.
Suspend council tax payments
Struggling households can suspend council tax and other bill payments for 60 days under a new scheme launched in May.
The respite scheme will protect hardened Britons from bailiffs and lawsuits for two months.
The plan will apply to municipal tax arrears and other unpaid debts, including taxes, overpayments of benefits as well as credit cards and loans.
During this period, households will receive professional debt advice to find a long-term solution to their financial difficulties.
You can find out more about who is eligible and how to apply.
Request money from the Household Support Fund
Your local council may also be able to help you with money and grants if you are struggling with bills through the household support scheme.
It’s a £500m pot doled out to hardened Brits over the winter and what you can get depends on where you live.
In some areas there is money to cover bills, so you can use it to help pay council tax.
Some places will give money or vouchers to cover specific bills like energy or to buy food.
While you can’t use it to pay council tax, getting this help instead could free up some money to cover it.
To find out what help you can get where you live, you can find your local council using the search tool on gov.uk – just enter your postcode.
Challenge your council tax
Another way to lower your bills is to dispute your municipal tax bracket – but only if you think you’re mistakenly in a higher bracket and paying more than you should.
It should be noted that contesting your council tax is not a surefire way to lower your bills.
You will also need to do your research first as this could result in you and your neighbors having to pay Following if you are propelled to a higher band instead
The first step is to check what council tax bracket your neighbors are in, based on homes of similar size and value.
This information is available online and can be checked for free, so you don’t need to ask your neighbors in person.
Use the Gov.uk website to do this for homes in England or the Scottish Assessors Association for properties in Scotland.
If you find that you are in a higher tax bracket than your neighbors, you may be able to successfully complete a challenge.
But before you do, another crucial check is to see how much your property was worth in 1991, because that’s when council tax was introduced by the government.
MoneySavingExpert has a free calculator tool to help you do this.
If you want a challenge, you can contact the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) in England and Wales or the Scottish Assessors Association (SAA) in Scotland.
It might be worth doing as a pensioner recently recovered £3,500 in council tax overpayments using a simple online form.
Get free debt advice
In addition to being a priority bill, missing a council tax payment could mean you become liable for your entire annual bill at once.
This means it’s really important to seek advice as soon as possible if you know you’re having trouble paying your bill.
There are many organizations where you can get free debt advice, including:
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