Cost of living: Expert offers advice on increased bills
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It has been widely reported that a large number of homes are in the wrong council tax band due to the way the bands were originally calculated. Nicola Rowley, who is the founder of communications agency NJRPR, explained that the process she had to go through to challenge her council tax banding was “hard work” and required “pure tenacity”.
She said: “I had to approach it like a major project, I couldn’t have done it if I had done a little bit here and there, my approach was full on.
“I set out my targets and what exactly I needed to do, so I said to myself, ‘What do I need to do? What do I need to achieve? Where do I need to be to get to where I want to be? Right? Okay, let’s put a plan in place.’”
Ms Rowley challenged her council tax in 2003 after purchasing her first home in Grays in Essex. The property was a two-bedroom newbuild flat which had been placed in council tax band D.
When Ms Rowley first moved into the new flat, she found out that there had been frustrations amongst the tenants about the bands for the neighbouring properties and she found out that several of the tenants had tried to challenge the decision but had not been successful.
According to the official rules, people can only formally challenge their council tax band if they have lived in the property for six months or less, and because of this Ms Rowley decided to take action as soon as she moved in.
She said: “I knew I needed to put a plan in place but initially I didn’t really have a clue how I could do it. Like a lot of people, I was clueless. I found out that the few neighbours who did appeal only sent a letter and after I did a bit of digging, I knew I needed to be able to show clearly why it needed to change and that I needed proper evidence.”
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The property Ms Rowley moved into consisted of two bedrooms one of which had an en-suite bathroom, a living room, a kitchen and another separate bathroom.
Ms Rowley began her investigation by looking into the other properties which were on the estate where she lived and collecting information about them.
There was an estate agent on her development and she often went in to ask about other properties, both houses and flats, which were available to buy.
She said: “I would pop in and just ask them what was available to buy and they would hand me the brochures about them which would tell me everything such as how many rooms, when it was built, who built it and specifically what the council tax band was for them.
“They would say things like, ‘But haven’t you just moved into a flat?’, and I would just be like, ‘I’m always looking out for good investments.’ I honestly became an expert in properties in the area at one point, I was always looking trying to find more evidence.”
Ms Rowley visited the majority of estate agents in her area and managed to collate an extensive portfolio which revealed that there were “massive discrepancies” in the listing which she felt didn’t make sense.
She said: “I ended up finding not only a two-bedroom house which had two bathrooms which were in Band C but a three-bedroom house which was in Band D which really helped my argument as I could show that there was a house, with more rooms than my flat in the exact same band. After finding this, I was able to form the basis of my argument.”
As Ms Rowley’s flat was a new build, the property fell under the National House-Building Council (NHBC) insurance warranty Buildmark.
This provides the owner of the new build a two-year-builder warranty period and then an eight-year insurance policy for physical damage to the home caused by a failure to build to the NHBC technical requirements.
Ms Rowley was having work done in her flat under this insurance and began chatting to one of the senior site managers about the council tax challenge.
She added: “This was where I got my absolute crucial piece of evidence because they told me that they were also confused about the banding as the properties were envisaged to be in Band C.”
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After a bit of persuasion, Ms Rowley then convinced the site manager to write a letter stating what he had disclosed to her and to sign it.
After several months of hard work and research, once Ms Rowley had received this she knew that she had the compelling evidence for a strong case.
She said: “It was honestly a story that I had created, it had a beginning, a middle and an end and it was huge. It included all the information from when I moved in, an extensive amount of evidence from the brochures from the estate agents and finally the signed confirmation that the flats were expected to be Band C.
“I sent it off within the six months I had to do it in and I even paid extra to have it tracked so I couldn’t be told that it hadn’t been received!”
Ms Rowley received her answer after a few weeks which confirmed that she had won the appeal and that the council tax band for her property was being reduced from Band D to C.
She added: “I was so happy that I had won because I managed to get a few hundred knocked off and that was on top of the discount I got for being a single occupancy. So I was very happy to have won, I had worked hard.
“My neighbours couldn’t believe I had managed to do it. I don’t think the council expected me to go to the lengths that I went to gather the evidence in the way that I did. I think they just couldn’t say no to my argument.”
If someone is looking to launch a challenge on their council tax band, the first suggestion Ms Rowley gives is to “never give up”.
She said: “If you think something is wrong with your banding then it probably is, secondly you will need evidence, gather up as much as you can and I would get your evidence straight from estate agents and not just on sites like Rightmove.
“I’d also recommend that you look at a wide range of properties too and not just the ones similar to you as you might stumble on something like I did and find a three-bed house in the same band as your two bed.
“I would honestly say keep going, there have been some banding decisions that are just not right and they can change if it is proven to be wrong.”
According to the GOV.UK, once the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which is the department which decides the level of council tax, it will do one of two things.
It will either change the council tax band, it could go up as well as down, and a person’s local council will revise the bill and adjust the payment or it will explain the reasons why the band cannot be changed.
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