Council tax bands can be confusing
That’s the question that’s been bugging Jessie Bicknell for years as she has tried to find out the answer.
A couple of months ago the widow, whose static mobile home is on a site near the south coast, called Crusader in a last-ditch attempt to right the apparent wrong.
Undaunted by the fact she’s 90, up against a mountain of officialdom and not 100 per cent clear how the banding allocation system works, Jessie has made several challenges.
She and her late husband moved into their Band B-rated property, the second lowest allocation, in the late 1990s.
Gradually she realised she was on a different rate to others who were on the lowest A rate.
Based on current charges in her area that’s a difference of £150 a year.
“When you live on a very tight budget like me that extra money would be very welcome,” she explains.
After learning her next-door neighbours were paying the Band A rate, Jessie got a review but hers stayed the same.
While it is local councils which set the council tax rate and manage billing, the banding, rateable values and appeals are the responsibility of an independent body: the Valuation Office Agency (VOA).
Taxpayers can check or contest decisions for free.
Living with the inequality she confronted, every day was hard for Jessie.
But it reached boiling point again last year when two other neighbours living nearby told her they had appealed and got their banding knocked down to the lowest A rate.
Although there is a lot of advice available (see panel), especially for those who can go online, Jessie felt she needed help to marshall her arguments.
While the VOA and other consumer help groups advise not paying and using the free service, Jessie wanted more face-to-face support so employed a solicitor.
Using the precise information available about which banding a property is in, Jessie’s legal adviser mapped the site to make her case.
Taxpayers can check or contest decisions for free
He also pointed out that when refusing her in 2015 the VOA had noted there were some homes that were outside the normal banding pattern for the site, saying, “Steps had been taken to review… and whether or not a band alteration is warranted.”
Nothing had come of that. And nothing came of his attempt because three months later, in December 2016, listing officer Ann Thomas for the VOA in Southampton said she was “satisfied” that Jessie’s banding was correct.
Once again there was another similar vague hint about the site’s set-up being flawed when Thomas added: “Some of the mobile homes have been misidentified as smaller units or allocated Band A in error. I will raise reports… to see if a band increase is necessary.”
We sent Jessie’s details to the VOA again but have little hope of any change of mind.
What does seem very likely though is that there were mistakes from the beginning when banding was introduced in the early 1990s.
Based on current charges in Jessie’s area, she was missing out on an extra £150 a year
Those were compounded over time and Jessie and one other elderly resident bore the worst of it.
The last realistic chance would have been to take her case to the Valuation Tribunal Service, the body independent of the VOA.
But that has to be done within three months of a review being rejected and Jessie is out of time.
It would require more form filling, marshalling arguments and a hearing, something she feels is beyond her now.
“I cannot afford to pay for more help,” she says.
“But this has not been right and I’m pleased Crusader can show that.”
For more information see gov.uk/council-tax-bands and /counciltax-appeals
Use the free service if you want your council tax banding reviewed and beware of scams and paying for help.
If the review is within the first six months of buying a home it’s called making a proposal.
Check first though what banding your neighbours are on.
If your review fails you can take your case to tribunal.
For more information see gov.uk/council-tax-bands and /counciltax-appeals. Those needing extra help can call 0300 501501.
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