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Council tax

This advice applies to England

Council tax is a system of local taxation collected by local authorities. It is a tax on domestic property. Some property is exempt from council tax. Some people do not have to pay council tax and some people get a discount.

Valuation bands

All homes are given a council tax valuation band by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). The band is based on the value of your home on 1 April 1991. A different amount of council tax is charged on each band. Each local authority keeps a list of all the domestic property in its area, together with its valuation band. This is called the valuation list.

The valuation bands are:

Valuation bandRange of values
A Up to £40,000
B Over £40,000 and up to £52,000
C Over £52,000 and up to £68,000
D Over £68,000 and up to £88,000
E Over £88,000 and up to £120,000
F Over £120,000 and up to £160,000
G Over £160,000 and up to £320,000
H Over £320,000

Finding out what band a property is in

You can check your council tax band on GOV.UK or you can find it on your council tax bill.

You can also check the valuation list at your local council’s main offices - and it might be available at your local library. There might be a small charge.

If a property is put into a different band, the VOA will write to the council tax payer, informing them of the change. The local council will send them a new council tax bill.

Properties exempt from council tax

Some property is exempt from council tax altogether. It might be exempt for only a short period, for example, 6 months, or indefinitely.

Properties which might be exempt include:

  • condemned property
  • property which has been legally re-possessed by a mortgage lender
  • property unoccupied because the person who lived there now lives elsewhere because they need to be cared for, for example, in hospital, in a care home or with relatives
  • property which is unoccupied because the person who lived there has gone to care for someone else
  • any property that only students or Foreign Language Assistants on the official British Council programme live in - this could be a hall of residence, or a house (if the property is occupied by both students and non-students the property is not exempt but any students in the house are disregarded)
  • a holiday caravan or boat if it's on a property where council tax is paid
  • a property where all the people who live in it are aged under 18
  • property which is occupied only by people with severe mental impairment
  • a self-contained annexe where the person who lives in it is a dependent relative of the owner of the main property

Who has to pay council tax

Usually one person, called the ‘liable person’, has to pay council tax. Nobody under the age of 18 can be a liable person.

Couples living together will both be 'jointly and severally liable' - this means they are responsible as a couple but also individually. This is the case even if there is only one name on the bill and applies if the couple is married, cohabiting or in a civil partnership.

No one is under an obligation to make a payment until they are issued with a bill in their name or, if they are jointly and severally liable, with a joint taxpayers' notice.

Usually, the person living in a property will be the liable person, but sometimes it will be the owner of the property who will be liable to pay.

The owner will be liable if any of these are true:

  • the property is in multiple occupation, for example, a house shared by a number of different households who all pay rent separately
  • the people who live in the property are all under the age of 18
  • the property is accommodation for asylum seekers
  • the people who are staying in the property are there temporarily and have their main homes somewhere else
  • the property is a care home, hospital, hostel or women's refuge

If only 1 person lives in a property they will be the liable person. If more than 1 person lives there, a system called the hierarchy of liability is used to work out who is the liable person. The person at the top, or nearest to the top, of the hierarchy is the liable person. Two people at the same point of the hierarchy will both be liable.

The hierarchy of liability is:

  1. A resident owner-occupier who owns either the leasehold or freehold of all or part of the property.
  2. A resident tenant.
  3. A resident who lives in the property and who is a licensee - this means that they’re not a tenant, but have permission to stay there.
  4. Any resident living in the property, for example, a squatter.
  5. An owner of the property where no one is resident.

How much council tax is paid

Each year, local councils set a rate of council tax for each valuation band. 

Not everyone will have to pay the full amount of council tax. There are 3 ways your council tax bill might be reduced - these are:

  • the reduction scheme for disabled people

  • discounts

  • Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate

Reduction scheme for disabled people

If there is someone (adult or child) living in a household who is substantially and permanently disabled the council tax bill for the property might be reduced. The reduction is made by charging council tax on a lower valuation band than the one the property is in. 

For example, if the property is in band D, the council tax bill will be worked out as if it were in band C. This reduction also applies to dwellings in band A. The reduction will be the same proportion of the council tax bill as the properties in the higher bands.

To claim a reduction you must show that a disabled person lives in the property, and also that the property has at least one of the following:

  • an extra kitchen or bathroom to meet the needs of a disabled person
  • any other room (except a toilet) which is mainly used by a disabled person to meet their needs
  • enough indoor space for a disabled person to use their wheelchair

You can check if you can get a reduction by using the ‘Apply for a Council Tax discount’ tool on GOV.UK.

Some local councils ask for supporting evidence, for example, a doctor’s letter.

Discounts

If only 1 adult lives in a property, they will get a 25% discount on the council tax bill.

When working out how many people live in a property, some people are not counted - they are called ‘disregarded people’.

You’re disregarded if you’re:

  • aged 17 or under
  • a prisoner or someone in detention awaiting deportation or under mental health legislation
  • 'severely mentally impaired'
  • a full-time student on a qualifying course of education (including correspondence or on-line courses), a student nurse or a Foreign Language Assistant on the official British Council programme (if the property is occupied only by students then it is exempt from council tax altogether)
  • a spouse, civil partner or dependant of a student who is a non-British Citizen and who, under immigration rules, is not allowed either to work in the UK or claim benefit
  • a young person on a government training scheme or following some kinds of apprenticeship
  • a long-term hospital patient or care home resident
  • living in a hostel which provides care or treatment because of your old age, physical or mental disability, past or present alcohol or drug dependence or past or present mental illness
  • living in a bail or probation hostel
  • a live-in care worker
  • staying in a hostel or night shelter, for example, in a Salvation Army or Church Army hostel
  • a school or college leaver aged under 20 and you have left school or college after 30 April - you’ll be disregarded until 1 November of the same year whether or not you take up employment
  • aged 18 and someone is entitled to Child Benefit for you
  • a member of a religious community
  • a member of a visiting armed force - your dependants are also disregarded

If everyone who lives in the property is disregarded, there will still be a council tax bill, but there will be a 50% discount.

Example 1

You’re ‘severely mentally impaired’ and live in a property with your carer. You’re both disregarded people. You are entitled to a 50% discount on your council tax.

Example 2

You’re living alone in a flat on a temporary basis because of a short-term job. Your main home is somewhere else, where you’re paying council tax. You’re a disregarded person. However, the flat counts as your second home and so you might get a discount of between 10% and 50%. This depends on the policy of the local council where your second home is located.

A local council could automatically send a council tax bill which includes a discount. The discount will be shown on the bill.

If you believe that you’re entitled to a discount and your bill doesn’t show that you have had one, you should apply to your local council for a discount as soon as possible.

If your bill shows that the local authority has applied a discount and you don’t think that you should have one, you must tell your local council within 21 days. If you don’t do this, your local council might impose a £70 penalty.

Empty properties

Some local councils offer a discount of up to 50% on a property which is:

  • empty and substantially unfurnished - the reduction applies for a maximum of 6 months and the property has to be vacant for the whole of this period (this includes a caravan or boat which is used as main residence but which is unoccupied)
  • empty because it needs major repairs or alterations to make it habitable - the reduction applies for a maximum of 12 months whether the work is actually finished or not by then, although up to 6 weeks of occupation during the period is allowed (this includes a caravan or boat which is used as main residence but which is unoccupied)

You can contact the local council to find out if you can get a discount.

Holiday homes and second homes

If you have a holiday home or second home in England, it is liable for council tax. However, councils sometimes offer a second home discount of up to 50% because no one lives there on a permanent basis. You can contact the local council where your holiday home or second home is located to find out if you can get a discount. 

There are some special cases where local councils have no discretion and the second home discount must be set at 50%. These are where the second home is in England and is either:

  • owned by someone who can’t live there because they have to live elsewhere in England, Wales or Scotland because of their job or their partner's job
  • a pitch with a caravan on it or a mooring occupied by a boat

The level of these discounts can only be challenged in the High Court by a legal procedure called judicial review. You can read more about judicial review on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website.

You should contact your nearest Citizens Advice and speak to an adviser if you want to apply for judicial review.

Discounts for family annexes

Local councils give a 50% discount on an annexe within a main property if the annexe is used by the occupiers of the main property or by their immediate family members, including parents and teenagers.

However, an annexe is exempt if it is occupied by dependant relatives, that is to say those aged 65 or over, or substantially or permanently disabled or severely mentally impaired. In addition you will not be charged an empty homes premium on a long term empty annexe.

Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate

If you’re liable to pay council tax you might be able to get:

  • a council tax reduction
  • a one-off discount of some or all of your arrears
  • second adult rebate, if you have someone living with you who isn’t liable to pay the council tax on your property
  • You won’t be able to get a second adult rebate as well as Council Tax Reduction. If you’re entitled to both, you’ll get whichever is higher.

For details of Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate, see Council Tax Reduction – what you need to know.

Empty homes premium for long-term empty properties

If your home has been empty and substantially unfurnished for 2 years or more, your local council can charge you an empty homes premium of up to 100% of your council tax bill. You will pay this on top of your council tax.

The maximum premium your local council can charge is 200% if your property has been empty for 5 years. From 1 April 2021, this will increase to 300% if your property has been empty for 10 years.

If your property is already exempt from council tax, you won't be charged the empty homes premium. You also won't be charged the premium if your property is:

  • the only or main residence of a member of the armed forces, who is living in armed forces accommodation for work 
  • an annex being used as part of your main residence

Paying council tax

Council tax bills should be sent out in April. You’re usually asked to pay in 10 instalments. You have the right to ask to pay in 12 instalments instead. Local councils might accept weekly or fortnightly payments. Some might also offer a reduction in the total bill if it is paid all at once, at the beginning of the year.

Council tax arrears

If you’ve missed a Council Tax payment, you’re in 'arrears' - this means you owe money to your council.

You should read our advice about dealing with Council Tax arrears

If you think your council tax band is wrong

Contact the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) and ask them to review your band. 

Valuation Office Agency
Telephone (England): 03000 501 501
Telephone (Wales): 03000 505 505

You will need to provide evidence to prove that your council tax band is wrong - you can find out what evidence you need on GOV.UK. 

If the VOA agrees to review your band they will write to you, usually within 2 months, to let you know their decision. 

Bear in mind that, if your home is already in band A, which is the lowest band, the VOA can’t reduce the band further.

If you don’t agree with the VOA’s review

You can make a formal application to challenge your council tax band.

You can do this within 6 months of:

  • becoming a new council tax payer on a property
  • the VOA notifying you that your banding has changed

You can also challenge your band if:

  • your property has been demolished
  • substantial changes have occurred in the locality that have affected the value of your home as at 1 April 1991
  • your property has been adapted for someone with a disability

You can find out how to challenge your council tax band on GOV.UK.

The VOA can’t delete a band just because a property is empty.

Where a band is deleted and the structural alterations are completed, the property will then be banded as a new property, reflecting all extensions and improvements. The new band may be higher than the one which was deleted.

If you disagree with the VOA's decision on your challenge you can appeal to an independent valuation tribunal.

Other complaints about council tax

You can complain to your local authority if there is a dispute about:

  • whether or not someone is a liable person -this includes a dispute about someone who is jointly liable because there are two or more people on the same level of hierarchy or where someone is jointly liable because they are one of a couple
  • whether a property is exempt
  • whether a discount applies
  • whether or not the reduction scheme for people with disabilities applies to you
  • whether the premium should be charged

The following people can complain:

  • a liable person, including someone who is jointly liable
  • an aggrieved person - this is someone who is directly affected by the decision, for example, the administrator of the estate of a liable person who has died

You must write to your local authority with your complaint. The local authority should send you a reply within 2 months.

If they do not agree with you, you can appeal against their decision to the valuation tribunal. If the local council doesn’t reply within 2 months, you can appeal direct to the valuation tribunal without waiting for the reply of the local council, as long as not more than 4 months have passed since you first wrote to the local council.

The valuation tribunal can’t hear appeals about:

  • why you haven’t paid your council tax 
  • Council Tax Reduction
  • the level of a discount the local council has set for second homes or long-term empty homes 

Appealing a council tax decision

If you’ve complained to the VOA or local council and you’re unhappy with the result, you can write to the valuation tribunal to make an appeal. 

The valuation tribunal is an independent body. Usually 3 members will hear an appeal and a clerk advises on law and procedure. You don’t have to pay to appeal.

When they get your letter, the valuation tribunal will acknowledge it and send you information about the procedure.

The valuation tribunal will send you a notice of the hearing – you’ll get at least 4 weeks' notice. It’s best to go to the hearing in person to put your case but you can ask the valuation tribunal to decide the case without you being there - you must do this in writing. 

If you find it hard to understand English, the valuation tribunal can provide an interpreter. They can also arrange to meet other needs if you are disabled - for example, if you have mobility problems or need special equipment.

In all cases the valuation tribunal will consider all the information about the particular case and will decide what should happen.

You can get more information about the valuation tribunal from their website.

Particular circumstances

There are things to remember if:

  • you live permanently in a hotel or hostel – you won’t be liable for council tax on the property
  • you live permanently in a caravan or mobile home - you will pay the council tax
  • you have a caravan that you let out as a business - you have to pay business rates, not council tax
  • you have a towing caravan which you keep at your home - you won’t be subject to either council tax or business rates
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