Remember - Council Tax Benefit ended in April 2013 and was replaced by Council Tax Reduction. You could be eligible for this if you qualify for council tax but are on a low income or claiming benefits.
Who pays council tax?
As a rule, you pay council tax if you're over 18 and either own or rent a home. If you're married or living with a partner, you're both equally responsible for paying your council tax bill. There are many exceptions of course, which you can find out more about in the Discounts and Exemptions section in this article.
Council tax bands explained
Each property falls into a council tax group or band which is based on the value of the property. Bizarrely, bands for home in England and Scotland are based on property values on 1st April 1991 whereas in Wales, they are based on property values on 1st April 2003.
You can find your council tax band for England and Wales or for Scotland then look at what your what your local authority charges for that band here.
Think you're in the wrong band?
If you feel your home is in the wrong band, you can challenge this. For the vast majority of people, this will be because they think they are being over-charged, not under-. In England and Wales, you need to contact the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) to check the banding and they will see if similar homes on your road are in a different band. This check is free and if you are in the wrong band, the council will amend your bill. You can challenge the VOA if you disagree with the result but only if the reasons are listed in this checklist.
If you disagree again, you would need to go to the independent Valuation Tribunal within 3 months. This service is free but it doesn't award costs.
It's a similar process in Wales but if you live in Scotland and think you're in the wrong band, check you're eligible to challenge it then follow the instructions here. You'll need to find your property on the website and click 'Make a Proposal' against it. The case will then go to a local Assessor or, failing that, to a local Valuation Appeal Committee.
How much could I get back?
There's no minimum or maximum figure for the refund - it depends on the property and how long it's been in the wrong band. Some people have claimed back as much as £5,000 but it's likely to be much lower, anything from £200 upwards. After re-banding, your annual council tax bill is also revised. Again, this depends on the type of property but as a guide, it can be between £100 - £400.
Discounts and exemptions
A full council tax is based on two adults living in a home so if, for example, you're a single parent with children under 18 or you live alone, you get 25% off the bill. To apply for the discount, go to your local council's website and fill out the form online, call them or find the relevant link here
There are other people who don't count as council tax payers too such as those on apprentice schemes, 18- and 19-year-olds in full-time education, full-time college and university students who meet these requirements and people with a severe mental disability. You can see the full list of exemptions here.
It may be that there is no-one in your home who counts as an adult for the purposes of council tax, in which case your bill will be reduced by 50%. There are separate rules for second homes and empty properties which you can look at in more detail on the gov.uk website link above if that applies to you.
If the discount doesn't show on the bill
If you've applied for a discount and it's not showing up on your council tax bill, you need to let the council know. They have 2 months to reply and if they then say you're not eligible and you disagree, you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. If you see a Council Tax discount on your bill which is a mistake, you must inform the council as you could be liable for a fine if you don't. You might also be asked to pay back the discount.
Council tax and disabled people
There's a separate scheme which protects disabled people from paying more council tax if they need a larger house or if they have to adapt their home because of their disability. As long as it's the main home for at least one disabled person (adult or child) and the property has an extra bathroom, kitchen or other room for the disabled person and extra space inside for using a wheelchair, that person does not count as a council tax payer.
Council tax payments
Your annual council tax bill will tell you the full amount you owe for the year and how they've worked out that figure. It also lists the dates you need to pay each installment by. Most bills are usually split over 10 months but if you want to pay over 12 months (the same amount, but slightly smaller payments), then your council must agree. You'll only receive a new bill if the amount you owe changes during that year.
There are several ways to pay. The easiest is by direct debit as it means you won't miss any payments and the amount can be automatically adjusted if your bill goes up or down. You could also set up a standing order but that means you need to contact the bank if the amount changes. You can also pay online with some councils, on the phone, by post or in person at your local council's office. You can also use Paypoint, Quickcards and Payzone which are usually found at newsagents, convenience stores, banks and post offices.
Where to next?
Benefit changes 2013: what you need to know
Average household bills
30 ways to save on household bills