How steeply will they hike your council tax bill next year?

If you're already on a tight budget, you may be worried to hear that many councils are planning to raise what you have to pay, come April 2017.

A pensioner examines her council tax bill

Council Tax is used to fund things in your local area, such as rubbish collection, road maintenance, street lighting and schools. How much you pay depends on the value of your house as well as your age, income and whether you live alone or with dependants.

The Local Government Chronicle, a government journal, asked 40 councils about their plans for next year, and found that most were intending to increase bills between 3.9pc and 3.99pc. This is the most they are allowed to increase Council Tax bills, without needing a local referendum, which would give people a chance to vote on the changes.

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Councils intend to put this extra money towards social care for the elderly and disabled, who need support in their homes. But sceptics say there will be a funding gap of at least £2.6 billion by 2020, even if every council uses all the powers they have to increase Council Tax till the end of the decade. Others make the point that we will all grow old, so it shouldn’t just be left to Council Tax payers to foot the bill – everyone should pay the tax instead.

Regardless of how you feel about the changes, it’s really important to make room in your budget for your Council Tax.

It’s classed as one of your priority bills, as the consequences of not paying it can be severe, including court action and bailiffs visiting your home. Other priority payments include your mortgage or rent, utility bills, child maintenance, court fines and any secured debts you have. These should be paid before you pay unsecured debts, like personal loans, credit card debts and store card debts.

It might help to make a list of all your debts and bills, and make sure you are prioritising the more important ones. Paying your Council Tax via Direct Debit can also make things easier, as the payment will go out automatically.

It can be very worrying if you’re struggling to afford your Council Tax, but in some cases it’s possible to get your bill reduced. You can apply to your local council for Council Tax Reduction, also known as Council Tax Support, and find out whether you’re eligible.

Your council will look at where you live, your personal circumstances, your income and who lives with you, in order to make a decision. If you are eligible, your bill can be reduced by up to 100pc.

If you’re struggling to pay your Council Tax and other important bills because your debt repayments are too high, you should speak to a trained debt advisor. They will be able to recommend the best way forward to deal with your debts, based on your personal circumstances.

Debt Advisory Centre: 0161 871 4881