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Council Tax: What it is, and how to not pay it

Wondering why you received a little letter in your mailbox asking you to cough up thousands of pounds in council tax? Let’s start with what Council tax is. This tax is how local authorities – Westminster council in the case of you Baker Street residents – generate revenue to pay for services such as rubbish collection, street cleaning, education, and firefighting within your borough. The price paid is set per household, varying by the value of the property itself and the borough that it falls under.

However, did you know that as a student, you’re entitled to a discount on your council tax, or an exemption altogether? Here’s how it works:

  • Any household which is occupied exclusively by full-time students qualifies for a full exemption on council tax.
  • If your home is made up of both full-time students and non-students, you will get a council tax bill through the door each month, but only non-student tenants will have to pay it.
  • If everyone in your home is a full-time student except for one non-student, unfortunately the latter will have to pay the bill themselves, but will receive a single person discount of 25%

Finally, if you are indeed liable for council tax, you can still opt to pay your council tax in twelve monthly instalments rather than ten – finance experts will already know that there’s such a thing as ‘time value of money’, and you can rest assured that you’ve managed to get a leg up on the council!

How to claim your student discount or extended instalment schedule? Simply write or email the council at the address provided in the council tax demand letter, quoting your account number. List the names of the students living in the property, being sure to include proof of full-time education for each student. The Programme Office should be able to provide with a document that can serve as your confirmation of student status.

Councils can be slow to respond, but if you don’t hear back for a few weeks, it may be worth picking up the phone and calling them to chase up!

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Save money & time – Use Monzo/Revolut & Transferwise

Have you just arrived in London, but do not have a local bank account?

Sign up for Monzo or Revolut! They provide the new generation of banking services – easy, fast, mobile, touch, cheap, and consumer-friendly.

Forget about queuing and waiting in a branch. Forget about the 20 minutes waiting on the phone before speaking with an agent. Forget about the mess and low services you were used to.

Do you want to transfer money from your non-UK bank account to LBS, a UK bank account, an estate agency or any service in the UK?

Use Transferwise! It is fast, secure and far cheaper than international transfer services from traditional banks.

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Our guide to moving with your family

What are the aspects to consider if you are thinking to move to London with a family?

HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON WITH A FAMILY: LIVING

Currently, in order to live and work in England, you need an ID (for European people) and the NIN, the National Insurance Number. For people outside the EU passport is still required.

My advice is to look for a house as far as you arrive in order to have a permanent address, because a proof of address is necessary for almost everything.

In order to open a bank account, you have to provide (which may be the electricity or water utilities, the TV license or the Council tax, (that is the only one to pay to the Council where you leave) or the National Insurance Number.

In order to apply for the GP, which is a clinic with many different doctors, you need to show the bank account or one of the above-mentioned proofs of address.

Renting a flat or a house in London can be very expensive and it absorbs most of your monthly budget.

HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON WITH A FAMILY: WORKING

If you have a degree and right to work in the UK, and if you are looking for a good position, it’s not so easy to find the dream job. It takes time, as your English must be very good and you have to be very skilled in your field. In the UK there’s a high competition.

In order to work, it is essential to have the National Insurance number (NI) – a sort of English tax code. However, you can have access to the national health care even if you don’t have it yet.

You can only apply for it once you’re in the UK. You must have the right to work or study in the UK to get a National Insurance number.

You can start work before your National Insurance number arrives if you can prove you can work in the UK (you are from the EU and prove you can work in the UK (check on this for all the information). You should tell your employer that you’ve applied for one, and give it to them when you have it.

You can only get the NI with an interview through one of the Jobcentres where you’ll be asked about your circumstances and why you need a National Insurance number.

The letter will also tell you which documents to bring to prove your identity, such as passport or identity card residence permit

British Citizenship: you can apply only if you have been living in the UK for at least 5 years and you need to pass an exam that evaluates your knowledge of English history and culture.

 HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON WITH A FAMILY: SEARCHING HOME

London is massive. I lived in Paris (which is not exactly small…) but it is nothing compared to the largeness of London. You mostly live in your borough, so it is essential to choose it well and consider the commuting to work.

Choosing the borough is not easy: once you have established your budget and the area considering the commuting, you can take into account schools, safety and parks. If you like travelling, you might also consider the transfer to the airports. West Hampstead is great for that.

What are the most family-friendly areas of London? Generally, West London is the most recommended if you are looking for a quiet life, with good parks. In this area, I can mention Kensington, Chiswick, Hammersmith, and Ealing.

In South London, the most recommended boroughs for families are Sutton, Richmond, Dulwich, and Wandsworth

In North London, West Hampstead and Muswell Hill.

Besides, I suggest considering the schools. Each school is given a score from Ofsted, and it is public. Once identified a property, I recommend also to check if you are in the catchment area of a good school.

HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON WITH A FAMILY: THE COST OF CHILDCARE

In England, there are no public nurseries. Up to three years there are only private nurseries and the cost for a full time is very high: around 1200-1300 £ a month are the cheapest solutions. The UK Government supports families with low incomes (but really low ones!), granting 15 hours’ free childcare per week for two years old.

In the best case, you will pay the whole amount till the age of three. When your child will be three, you are eligible to have 15 hours per week by the Government. However, you don’t pay 15 hours less, you have actually a discount on your monthly fee.

What are the alternatives?

Many moms don’t work or have part-time solutions or arrange with grandparents. Other options are the childminders, that are usually less expensive than a nursery, and the babysitters, that cost £10 per hour excluding taxes.

When a child is three years old, he can go to the preschool, but generally, they have reduced time (9-12.30), and if you are an expat without grandparents, it is a little difficult to consider, unless you have a babysitter.

So till the beginning of the school with the Reception, the costs of childcare is expensive.

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LBS students? There is more than Baker Street or St John’s Wood

Don’t self-limit yourself to Baker Street/Marylebone or St John’s Wood!

The easy decision for LBS students is to choose Baker Street/Marylebone or St John’s Wood. It might be due to the famous FOMO – be close to the school and as many students as possible. After 2 or 3 months, there are so many complaints: the flats are old even if the rent you would pay is in the highest end in London, nurseries are expensive (between £2,000 and £5,000 a month), food and restaurants are expensive, the flat is 25 minutes by walk from a tube station. After the first year, most of the students living in those areas will move to another neighboorhood.

Be open-minded! There are so many areas that are amazing, like Islington/Angel, West Hampstead, Maida Vale, and Camden. You can be 20-25 minutes door-to-door to LT1 by living in one of those areas, with the advantage of having better amenities, better deals in your everyday life and avoid the need of moving to a new place for your 2nd year at LBS.

These are just a few neighborhoods. You can use our free concierge services to discover flats and neighboorhood in a very easy way.

london-city-map-best-of-london
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Finding the right flat – Top 5 mistakes

The best advice that we can give is… use your free concierge services at SearchSmartly 🙂


Mistake #1 – Signing a contract without having someone viewing the property

Have you ever heard about the 3 MBA 2015s that ended up renting apartments at LBS for 3 months because the flat they signed for was … not a flat.

HouseHunting

We have warned you guys! Have at least a trusted friend to physically visit any flat you intend to rent.


Mistake #2 – Trusting the pictures on the estate agency websites/Zoopla/RightMove

Did you know that 67% of the pictures you see on RightMove, Zoopla and estate agency websites are pictures that are 5 to 10 years old? Those pictures do not represent the reality.

Kitchen

Mistake #3 – Accepting a flat visit without any pictures/details about the property

If you have time to kill, it is better spending it at the Windsor. Many estate agents (not all) are incentivized based on the number of visits they make during the day. They also need to report to the landlords how many viewings were conducted against their flats.

Yes, estate agents are mainly paid by landlords, so they serve first the landlords. That is why potential renters are usually called in the industry “applicants” and not customers …

windsor

Mistake #4 – Working with a “bespoke” estate agent that nobody knows

Don’t be fooled by fake estate agents. There are some of them in New York, Paris and… London. Yes, you can find some properties on Gumtree but no, don’t hand over money to estate agents you find on Gumtree.

NOO

Mistake #5 – Relying on a verbal agreement and sign a reservation contract 

Have you noticed that the kitchen needs a lot of cleaning? If you really want the flat, write down in the reservation and/or tenancy agreement contract a condition stipulating that a professional cleaning of the kitchen needs to happen before you move in.

Does the flat come furnished? Understand and list down all the furniture you want to keep in the flat, take pictures and list them down on the reservation and/or tenancy agreement.

When the reservation contract is signed, you have lost most of your negotiation power.

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Our Journey Begins

So here we are!

After a few months developing our concierge services, here we are ready to find a place for you to call home, settle in and enjoy life. SearchSmartly is live!

Sit down and let us guide you!

The SearchSmartly team

“A home is where your heart is. A place that SearchSmartly proudly helped you find!”  — SearchSmartly