Forget the stereotype of the curtain-twitching pensioner keeping tabs on your comings and goings – a new wave of nosy neighbour is in town – and it’s not to grass on you for for breaking Covid restrictions.
We aren’t counting how many people you have visiting in your home, we aren’t checking to see if you are isolating after your holiday in Europe – oh no! We are watching what you spend.
I agree that this might sound a bit ominous, but bear with me: it’s possible to cash in on your curiosity and it doesn’t involve anything sinister. You just need to know where to look.
Here is how you can snoop successfully to save money on your household bills – without feeling like a massive creep.
COMPARE YOUR HOUSEHOLD BILLS TO CUT COSTS
Did you know that the psychological effect of knowing that others are paying less than you can spur you on to change your own spending habits?
According to a report by Policy Exchange, evidence from the UK and abroad shows households reduced energy use, for instance, when their bills are compared with more energy efficient neighbours.
So, knowing what “them nextdoor” are paying annually could cut your annual household costs on everything from insurance premiums to gas and electricity bills.
Broadly speaking, people living in any given neighbourhood pay roughly the same for their household bills subject to a few variables, such as the number of rooms per house, number of occupants and claims history.
Based on this, and the data collected by comparison website Moneysupermarket.com about the typical cost of living in particular post codes, you are able to match your location and discover an estimate of what people in your area are paying.
This means that you will be able to tell if you are getting a fair price on your utilities.
And the savings are not to be scoffed at either.
According to the comparison site’s data, half of consumers could save at around £285 on annual car insurance premiums, £270 on broadband/line rental and £60 on home insurance.
All you have to do is enter your postcode on the site’s home bill checker to find typical prices local to you.
BRING DOWN BROADBAND BILLS
With many of us spending almost all of our time at home, the speed and reliability of your broadband connection is more important than ever.
The things is, while you might be paying for superfast internet, that doesn’t mean that you are actually getting it – figures from Moneysavingsexpert.com shows that broadband providers only need to give 10% of customers the advertised speed.
What’s more, advertised speeds are just an indication of the speed you may get – they’re based on the average speed received by at least 50% of a provider’s current customer base between 8pm and 10pm.
As it’s not just the provider that you choose that dictates internet speed — how close your home is to a phone exchange, the quality of the phone line and wiring, and number of people using the same provider locally will all affect it, for example.
Around 50 people are thought to use every connection at an exchange so if you can see that everyone on your street is using one company for their internet, it might be worth considering using the next best provider to avoid traffic on the internet highway.
To get an inkling of what speeds are possible in your immediate area, use uSwitch’s Broadband StreetStats tool. Just enter your postcode, click ‘Update Map’ and it will show you where the nearest exchange is and what speeds people in your area get.
PERV ON PROPERTY PRICES
Here you can search for a property or an area by typing in the name of a street or village. This will provide you with a chronological list of every property sold there since 1995 – and crucially, the amount that was paid.
There are considerable advantages to both buyers and sellers obtaining price information so easily. Vendors can find out what similar properties have been selling for in recent months, and so will know at what level to market their homes; buyers need not pay over the odds for a property if they know the going price.
Another way to get the same information is by using the online Land Registry. This will provide much more detailed information and is great if you want to look at the register or title plan of a property you own, find out who owns a specific property, discover the area a property covers, or contact the owner if you want to buy it.
Start by entering the postcode and house number or name and click on the search button. It is even easier if you have the full address as you can click on “detailed inquiry”.
There is even a way to search for a property if you have no information at all: just click on “map inquiry”.
For properties you are interested in, you can download a copy of the “registered title” for £3. According to the Land Registry, searches remain anonymous.
CUT YOUR COUNCIL TAX
Guess where I worked when I was going through Journalism School? The Council Tax Office! And guess what? Being nosey with this household bill could mean considerable savings.
Neighbouring properties are often in different bands, and this gives you scope to claim back thousands of pounds if you do a little prying.
Don’t be afraid to query your council tax bill; it could save you a lot of money. It is worth doing as any repayment will be backdated for as long as you have been living at the property.
In 1991, properties were given “drive-by” valuations to assess which band they should be in. As a result, many ended up in the wrong band, causing some homeowners to pay more than needed. But the internet means it’s now possible to check and challenge your band free of charge – and from the comfort of your own home.
The first step is to compare your property’s banding with similar neighbouring properties by going through the council tax list at the Valuation Office Agency’s website. (if your home is in Scotland, try the Scottish Assessors Association).
Just enter your postcode and select your house number and it will give you the banding. Then do the same with your neighbour’s number to see if they are paying less than you.
Another way is to visit the Zoopla for a free search of the sales price of the homes in your areas. This should help provide a reasonable idea of your property’s current value if unknown.
Then you need to find out what the property was worth in 1991, when the council tax bandings were set. You can do this by visiting nationwide.co.uk/hpi and using the building society’s house price calculator.
But it is important to keep in mind that this is about asking for a banding reassessment, which may not necessarily mean a decrease in your council tax. Beware that if you write to the Valuation Office for a reassessment, your council tax could go up.
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