How to get a council tax refund if you have overpaid

Research reveals £150 million of overpaid council tax is sitting unclaimed. Could some of it be yours?

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Around 862,000 households across the UK could be in line for a council tax refund windfall worth an average for £174 each household.

Recent research from MoneySavingExpert found that councils were sitting on £150 million of overpaid council tax cash across England, Wales and Scotland, waiting for it to be claimed.

Over £40 million in overpaid council tax is owed to those living across London, followed by £27 million across the South East, over £12 million each for the North West and West Midlands and over £11 million in Scotland.

We explain how to find out if some of that money could be yours and if it is, then how you can claim it.

Am I due a council tax refund? 

If you moved house or successfully challenged your council tax band, then there is a chance you may have overpaid and are due a refund.

You may not be know you’re due some council tax cash, especially if you moved house and forgot to close down your old council tax account or if you don’t pay your council tax by direct debit.

When you move home, you would normally tell your local council and ask them to close down the account - and if you pay by direct debit, this should then trigger an automatic refund if one is due.

But, because of the way council tax is calculated and paid, you usually pay in advance with the annual bill split over 10 monthly payments. This payment is automatically refunded for direct debit payers, but anyone who pays by cash or cheque could find themselves out of pocket because the onus is on them to chase the refund for the advance payments.

Even if your council tax account is closed, if you have not left a forwarding address, the council can not get in touch with you to arrange a refund.

And if you successfully challenged your council tax band, then you too could be due a refund. If you’ve done this and are now on a lower band, any rebate can be accrued and backdated as far back as 1993, or when you moved into the property, if this is more recent. 

How to reclaim overpaid council tax 

The easiest way to start to reclaim any overpaid council tax is by going on your previous council’s website.  

If you moved, then dig out and check your previous council tax and bank statements to see how you paid and if you may have paid beyond the date you moved.

If you can’t remember which council you were with, then the easiest way is to find your old postcode and type this into the government’s council finder tool which then links to the relevant council website. 

While each council may have its own system for reclaiming overpaid council tax, many councils have online council tax refund forms that should speed up the process and save having to call up.

If you can’t, or don’t want to use the online claim process, call your local council using the number on your old council tax bill or on its website and ask if you can claim using a paper form.

How long does a council tax refund take if you have overpaid? 

Councils generally process council tax refunds within around 10 - 28 days, however this can depend on the local council.

Councils have a responsibility to repay any overpaid council tax, however realistically they’re not going to spend years trying to track you down to make payment if you don’t tell them where you’ve moved too.

How to avoid overpaying council tax in the future  

The easiest way to avoid overpaying in the future is to set up a direct debit to pay your council tax. 

By doing this it means your council has your bank details on its system 

which makes it easier for them to process any refunds due straight back to your bank account.   

This was the case with the Government £150 council tax rebate, as payments were made automatically to those households who paid by direct debit and much faster than those who had to be contacted by the council to arrange another payment method.

And if you move home, tell your local council and ask them to close down your account, check if any money is owed and how and when it will be paid. Once you’ve had the payment, cancel your direct debit too.

Sue Hayward

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound.  Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!