Words matter a great deal – which is why one little word used by the Chancellor about the £150 council tax rebate has led to much confusion and frustration.
When the £150 rebate was announced, many people – myself included – thought that the refund would be applied ‘in’ April. Actually, the rebate is being applied ‘from’ April. Which means thousands of people have been in touch to say they haven’t got the rebate on their bill – and might not get it for some time.
According to MoneySavingExepert councils have until 30th September to pay the rebate. Just to add to the confusion, the rules are different in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Oh, and on top of that, each council has a different process. Confused? Clearly lots of people are. Here are the most common questions on all things rebate – and some tips on council tax too.
What happens if you’ve not had the rebate?
Because of the widespread variations over the rebate, it’s a bit of a postcode lottery when it comes to finding out when you will get the cash. The current advice is to go on to your local council website where there should be some updates. I’ve checked quite a few and there’s a distinct lack of information with some so don’t worry if the site hasn’t updated yet.
Many councils are asking people not to contact them to ask about the rebate. But you can contact your council for help and support with financial difficulties if you are worried about paying the tax. So get in touch and let them know. You might also qualify for a payment or vouchers through the Household Support Fund – find out more in my Mirror column here: https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/what-500m-household-support-fund-26554965
I’ve heard that there are some scams to be aware of with this rebate – what are they?
Depressingly, fraudsters, scammers and opportunists will always swing in to action whenever there is confusion over things like rebates and refunds.
Scammers may contact you by text, email or phone and ask for your details to provide the refund. This is a particular worry as you may be contacted by your council in a similar manner if you do not pay by direct debit. Remember, don’t give out your bank details or any personal information on the phone to a stranger, no matter how convincing they seem. The council should update their website to explain how these refunds will work and if you are unsure about the caller, just phone the council tax helpline so you know you are through to a genuine number. Don’t call back on the number the person on the phone gives you – it might send you right back to the scammers.
Also, watch out for opportunist firms. These businesses may have the veneer or being legitimate, in that they offer a service for a fee or percentage of your cash. But don’t use them. Opportunist firms charge you a fee for something you can do for free. Remember that only your local council can apply the rebate – so you should only deal with them. A business cannot get you the refund any quicker.
MSE also found that £230 million is potentially lying around in your council’s coffers waiting to be reclaimed. Again, you don’t need to pay a business to get your cash back – check out my guide later in the article to overpayment refunds.
What happens if you don’t pay council tax by direct debit?
Though we don’t have the exact numbers, roughly a quarter of people don’t pay their council tax by direct debit. This poses a problem for the councils as the rebate is generally paid by the council in to your bank account – not deducted off the bill. So if you pay by cash or cheque, the discount might not be applied to your account as they won’t have your bank details.
Your council should contact you if you don’t pay by direct debit but given the speed of the announcement and the way that some councils work, it might take a while and there may be a few errors. Keep an eye on the website and if you know someone older or more vulnerable, help them out too.
Alternatively, why not set up a direct debit payment now, so the rebate can be paid directly to you?
If you live in a council house or get benefits, do you still get the rebate?
Seeing as the rebate is designed to help counter rising costs like energy bills, then it shouldn’t matter if you don’t pay council tax or are on benefits or pay less tax. However, this is still a grey area. For example, some renters may not pay council tax as part of their contract but do pay full energy bills. So they could lose out under the existing guidance.
The Government are apparently ‘consulting’ on this issue right now so watch this space for further answers. If you are on benefits, you may still be paying some council tax, which should not preclude you from getting the full rebate.
What happens if you’re in council tax bands not A to D?
The Government scheme only applies to people living in council tax bands A to D with a few exemptions. Here’s what they say:
Households are eligible where, on 1 April 2022, they are liable for council tax on a property which is in council tax bands A-D and which they live in as their main home. This includes those who receive Local Council Tax Support, even if their council tax bill for the year is less than £150.
Where the occupants of a property in bands A – D are exempt from council tax on 1 April 2022, they will also be eligible if the property falls in one of the following classes of exemption: Class N (students – other than HMOs for council tax purposes), Class S (under 18s), Class U (people with a severe mental impairment), Class W (annexes occupied by a dependent relative).
What’s really tricky is the council tax bands are worked out on prices from – wait for it – 1993 (1991 in Scotland and 2003 in Wales). So it’s really difficult to know if you are in the right band. You can go through your national council tax website to find out how to appeal a banding and find the criteria that might apply. But if ever a system needed updating, it’s this one.
What happens if you live in a house of multiple occupation, do you still get the £150 rebate?
The rebate is paid to each ‘household’ which is defined as ‘a person or group of people living in a property that attracts a separate council tax bill’. So that includes the standard nuclear family and things like student shared houses. The rebate goes to the account of the person who pays the bill. If you live in a multiple occupancy household and don’t pay by direct debit then you should be able to nominate someone to receive the cash.
I’ve heard that there are millions in council tax overpayments waiting to be reclaimed – how do I do this?
Most people won’t think that they’ve overpaid on their council tax. But the reality is millions of pounds in overpayments are sat around waiting to be claimed back.
That’s because you usually pay the tax in advance and spread over 10 months, which means most of us who pay regularly will be in credit. The problem comes when you move to a new council area. That payment in advance isn’t necessarily returned back to you ‘pro rata’ based on the date you moved out. In addition, some people forget to cancel their direct debit.
Finally, if the people who live in your property after you get the home rebanded (so the property is in a cheaper band) then you have technically been overpaying for years – meaning you could be entitled to a significant refund.
If you’ve paid by direct debit then there’s a chance that you’ve already had the refund. If not – and you’ve moved out of the council catchment area in the last three decades – they you might be able to claim.
However, given that councils are already asking people not to call them about the rebate, they probably won’t be able to cope with people calling en masse for a refund of overpayments. Most have an online form that you can fill in so go down that route first. And don’t pay any business to do this for you!
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James