Beat 2017/18 household bill hikes

The new financial year sweeps in this month, bringing a raft of changes in its wake. Moneywise explains how to beat these hikes.

Cut council tax costs

In England, the majority of local authorities can raise council tax in 2017/18 by up to 2%. If councils want to implement a bigger increase they must hold a local referendum.

Due to a funding shortfall, those councils with responsibility for adult social care can also implement an additional 3% rise this year. Research conducted by the Local Government Information Unit suggests 94% of local authorities will raise council tax in 2017/18.

In Scotland, the council tax freeze which had been in place since 2007 has now ended. All councils in Scotland now have the power to raise council tax by up to 3%. Those with properties in bands E to H will also see their bills rise by up to £10 a week because of changes to the national council tax system. This rise will be on top of any 3% local increases.

In Wales, there is no cap governing how much local authorities can raise taxes by from April 2017.

In Northern Ireland, council tax doesn’t exist.

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 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.

 

Note that from 1 April 2017, empty properties that are unfurnished (apart from if the person has died) or uninhabitable are no longer entitled to any discount - a 100% council tax charge is applicable.

You may 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.

Ward off water bill rises

Water and sewerage bills rise from April by an average of 2% 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 rose by 20p from 1 April 2017, from £8.40 to £8.60. 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; or
  • 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 and a valid medical exemption certificate;
  • 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
  • you or your partner get 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, NHS dental charges rose on 1 April 2017, with the cost of a standard band one treatment (such as a check-up) rising by 90p to £20.60. A band two treatment (such as a filling) increased by £2.40 to £56.30 and a band three course (such as a crown) rose by £10.60 to £244.30.

In Wales, the same band system applies, although the charges are lower. Prices rose on 1 April 2017 and band one treatments now cost £14, band two costs £44 and band three is £195. In Wales you can also get a free dental examination if you’re aged under 25, or are aged 60 and over.

Northern Ireland and Scotland do not operate in a banded system, with each specific treatment carrying its own cost. In Scotland, check-ups are free but patients must pay 80% of the treatment costs (including any x-rays), up to a maximum of £384 – this remains the same as last year.

In Northern Ireland, prices start from £6.68 for a basic check-up. For more complex treatments, patients are required to pay 80% of the cost, up to a maximum of £384. This also remains the same as last year.

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.
 

Your Comments

I don't know where the "up to 50%" discount on Council Tax for a second home applies but certainly in my case I do get a 25% single occupancy discount for my main London home but pay the full 100% for a second home in Wiltshire inherited from my mother some years ago. 

 

Hi Valjean, 

Councils can give furnished second homes or holiday homes a discount of up to 50%. Contact your council to find out if you can get a discount - it’s up to them how much you can get.

See: https://www.gov.uk/council-tax/second-homes-and-empty-properties

Helen,

Moneywise