Beat 2016/17 house bill hikes
The new financial year sweeps in this month, bringing a raft of changes in its wake. Some – such as the new personal savings allowance – will be warmly received, while others won’t be greeted with as much joy.
Moneywise explains how to beat these hikes.
Cut council tax costs
In England, the majority of local authorities can raise council tax in 2016/17 by up to 2%, although some can increase the tax by up to 4% and others are able to hike it by up to £5. If councils want to go above these thresholds, they must vote on it.
In Scotland, council tax bills have been frozen since 2007, which will continue until April 2017.
However, from then on, the government plans to up the rates for those in bands E, F, G and H by between £105 and £517 a year on average. In Wales, there is no cap governing how much local authorities can raise taxes by from April 2016.
However, in all three countries, you can apply to your local authority to get a discount of:
- 25% if you’re an adult living on your own, or no one else in your home counts as an adult (which is generally someone aged over 18 who isn’t a full- time college or university student);
- 50% if no one in your home, including you, counts as an adult – for example, those on apprentice schemes. See Gov.uk/counciltax for a full list;
- up to 50% off second homes or holiday homes;
- 100% off if everyone in your home is a full-time student;
- 100% off for up to six months (from getting probate) if you’re selling an empty property on behalf of someone who has died; or
- up to 100% off if you’re on a low income or claim certain benefits.
You may also be able to challenge your council tax band if you think you’re in the wrong one – although be warned that if you ask for a reassessment there’s a chance your local authority could move you into a pricier band rather than a cheaper one.
In Northern Ireland, council tax doesn’t exist.
Ward off water bill rises
Water and sewerage bills rise from April by an average of 1% in England and Wales and 1.6% in Scotland.
In Northern Ireland, the government covers the cost of water charges.
Unfortunately, you can’t switch water and sewerage provider; you’re stuck with the one that services your local area. But there are ways to save.
Andy White, senior policy manager at the Consumer Council for Water in England and Wales, says: “Often the most effective way for households to cut their water bills is to ask their water company to install a water meter free of charge.
“It’s certainly worth checking out if your property has more bedrooms than people living in it. Some customers find they can save more than £100 a year and you usually have at least 12 months to switch back if you change your mind.”
You can use the water meter calculator at Ccwater.org.uk to see if switching could save you money.
In Scotland, there is a charge to get a water meter, so ensure you do the calculations first to see if you’ll save.
Mr White says: “Water-saving devices, such as [eco] shower heads and tap inserts, are also a great way to reduce your bills if you are on a meter and many water companies offer lots of freebies.
“Most companies in England and Wales also now offer ‘social tariffs’ which can significantly reduce your bills if you are on a low income,” he adds.
Being water efficient, such as ensuring taps aren’t dripping and only boiling the kettle with the water you actually need, will also help keep bills down.
Push down prescription prices
In England, the price of a single prescription will rise by 20p from 1 April, from £8.20 to £8.40. But you can beat this rise in the following ways.
- If you buy more than three prescriptions in three months, get a three-month prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) costing £29.10.
- If you buy more than 12 prescriptions in a year, get a
- 12-month PPC for £104.
If you are on a low income, it’s worth checking whether you qualify for help to cover costs under the NHS Low Income Scheme. See Nhs.uk for further information.
You can get free prescriptions if you:
- are 60 or over;
- are under 16;
- are under 19 and in full-time education;
- are pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months;
- have a specified medical condition;
- have a continuing physical disability that prevents you from going out without help from another person;
- hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability;
- are an NHS inpatient; or
- your partner gets certain benefits, such as Pension Credit Guarantee Credit.
Prescriptions have been free in Northern Ireland since 2010, free in Scotland since 2011, and free in Wales since 2007.
Drill down dental charges
In England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, NHS dental charges typically change each April.
In England, from 1 April, band 1 treatment, such as an examination, will rise by 90p from £18.80 to £19.70, and it will rise by a further 90p in 2017/18 taking prices to £20.60.
Band 2 treatment, such as a filling, will rise by £2.60 from £51.30 to £53.90, and it will increase by a further £2.40 in 2017/18 taking prices to £56.30.
Band 3 treatment, such as a crown, will rise by £11.20 from £222.50 to £233.70, and by a further £10.60 in 2017/18 taking prices to £244.30.
Northern Ireland and Scotland have yet to announce prices for April onwards, but at the time of writing in March 2016 they varied depending on the treatment, ranging from being free to costing up to £384.
In Wales, prices are unlikely to be announced until after the Welsh National Assembly election in May. At the time of writing in March, treatment in band 1 cost £13.50, while band 2 cost £43 and band 3 cost £185. You can also get a free dental examination if you’re aged under 25, or are aged 60 and over.
However, in certain circumstances across the UK you can get free NHS dental treatment. The main scenarios where this applies are if when the treatment starts you are:
- under 18;
- under 19 and in full-time education;
- pregnant or have had a baby in the past 12 months;
- or receiving certain benefits, such as Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, or your partner is eligible for them.
If you’re on a low income, also check if you qualify for help to cover dental costs under the NHS Low Income Scheme.
The process of applying for the right to deal with a deceased person’s estate. If a person has left a will, they will usually have appointed a will executor. The executor then has to apply for a ‘grant of probate’ from the probate registry, which is a legal document that confirms the executor has the authority to deal with the affairs of the deceased. If a person dies without making a will, intestacy law applies (see intestate).