It has been widely reported that a large number of homes are in the wrong council tax bracket due to the way the bands were originally calculated. Nicola Rowley, 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 “sheer tenacity”.
She said: “I had to approach it like a big project, I couldn’t have done it if I did a little bit here and there, my approach was full on.
“I set out my goals and what exactly I needed to do, so I said to myself, ‘What do I need to do? What do I have to achieve? Where do I have to be to get where I want to be? Right? Okay, let’s come up with a plan.’”
Ms Rowley challenged her council tax in 2003 after buying her first house in Greys, Essex. The property was a newly built two bedroom apartment which had been classified in council tax class D.
When Ms Rowley first moved into the new home, she found that there had been frustrations among the tenants about the ties for the neighboring properties and she found that several tenants had tried to challenge the decision with no success had.
Under official rules, people can only formally challenge their council tax margin if they have lived in the property for six months or less, and for this reason Ms Rowley decided to take action as soon as she moved in.
She said: “I knew I had to come up with a plan, but initially I had no real idea how to go about it. Like many others, I was clueless. I found that the few neighbors who appealed only sent one letter and after doing a little research I knew I needed to be able to show clearly why it needed to be changed and that I would do the right thing evidence needed.”
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The property that Mrs Rowley moved into consisted of two bedrooms, one with an en-suite bathroom, a living room, a kitchen and another separate bathroom.
Ms Rowley began her investigation by looking at the other properties that were on the property where she lived and gathering information about them.
There was a real estate agent for her development and she often went in to inquire about other properties, both houses and apartments, that were for sale.
She said: “I stopped by and just asked them what there was to buy and they gave me the leaflets about it which told me everything, how many rooms, when it was built, who built it and specifically what the council tax band is was for her.
“They said things like, ‘But haven’t you just moved into an apartment?’ and I was just like, ‘I’m always looking for good investments.’ Honestly, I eventually became an expert on real estate in the area, I was always looking for more evidence.”
Ms Rowley visited most of the real estate agents in her area and managed to put together an extensive portfolio that revealed there were “massive discrepancies” in the listing that she felt made no sense.
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She said: “I ended up not only finding a two bedroom house that had two bathrooms which was in Band C, but a three bedroom house that was in Band D which really helped my argument as I was able to show that there was a house with more rooms than my apartment in the exact same band. Having found this, I was able to form the basis of my argument.”
Because Ms Rowley’s home was new construction, the property was covered by the National House-Building Council’s (NHBC) Buildmark insurance guarantee.
This provides the new home owner with a two-year builder’s warranty and then an eight-year insurance policy for property damage to the home caused by failure to meet the NHBC’s technical requirements.
Mrs Rowley had work done at her home under this insurance and began chatting with one of the senior construction managers about the council tax challenge.
She added, “This is where I got my absolutely crucial piece of evidence because they told me they were also confused about the banding since the properties were foreseen in Volume C.”
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After some persuasion, Mrs Rowley then persuaded the site manager to write a letter setting out what he had told her and to sign it.
After several months of hard work and research, upon receiving this, Ms Rowley knew she had the compelling evidence of a strong case.
She said: “It was honestly a story I made up, it had a beginning, a middle and an end and it was huge. It contained all the information since I moved in, extensive evidence from the broker’s brochures and finally the signed confirmation that the apartments will probably be Volume C.
“I sent it off within six months of getting it done and I even paid extra to have it tracked so I couldn’t be told it didn’t arrive!”
Ms Rowley received her reply after a couple of weeks, confirming that she had won the appeal and that the council tax bracket on her property had been reduced from tier D to C.
She added: “I was so happy I won because I managed to get knocked off a few hundred and that was on top of the discount I got for single occupancy. So I was very happy to win, I had worked hard.
“My neighbors couldn’t believe I had made it. I don’t think the council expected me to go as far as I did to collect the evidence. I think they just couldn’t say no to my argument.”
When anyone tries to challenge their council tax, Ms Rowley’s first suggestion is to ‘never give up’.
She said: “If you think there’s something wrong with your banding then it probably is, secondly you need evidence, collect as much as you can and I would get your evidence direct from real estate agents and not just on sites like that Rightmove.
“I would also recommend that you also look at a wide range of properties and not just those that are similar to you as you might stumble across something like me and a three bed house in the same band as your two bed could find house.
“I would honestly say go ahead, there have been some banding decisions that just weren’t right, and they are subject to change if they are found to be wrong.”
According to GOV.UK, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), the department that decides council tax rates, will do one of two things.
It will either change the council tax range, it can go both up and down and a person’s council will revise the bill and adjust the payment, or it will explain the reasons why the range cannot be changed.