Check how council tax works and if you have to pay

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

Council tax is a system of local taxation collected by local councils - it's a tax on domestic property.

Some property is exempt from council tax. Some people don't 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 council 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 band Range of values
Valuation band


Range of values

Up to £40,000

Valuation band


Range of values

Over £40,000 and up to £52,000

Valuation band


Range of values

Over £52,000 and up to £68,000

Valuation band


Range of values

Over £68,000 and up to £88,000

Valuation band


Range of values

Over £88,000 and up to £120,000

Valuation band


Range of values

Over £120,000 and up to £160,000

Valuation band


Range of values

Over £160,000 and up to £320,000

Valuation band


Range of values

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

If you have a second home

You’ll usually have to pay council tax for your second home.

If you rent it out as a self-catering holiday let you might not have to pay council tax - you might pay business rates instead.

You won’t have to pay council tax if all of the following apply to your second home:

  • it will be available as a holiday let for at least 140 days in the current tax year

  • it was advertised commercially as a holiday let for at least 140 days in the last tax year

  • it was rented out as a holiday let for at least 70 days in the last 12 months

You can find out more about business rates for self-catering holiday lets on GOV.UK.

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 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

The owner is also liable if the property is a house in multiple occupation (HMO). You’ll usually be living in an HMO if you live in a shared house, bedsit or hostel with 2 or more people who aren’t part of the same family. 

It can be difficult to tell if a property is an HMO. If you’re not sure, you can check with your local council. You can find your local council on GOV.UK.

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.

Check if you can pay less council tax

You might be able to get a discount or reduction if for example you:

  • have no income or a low income

  • are disabled

  • live alone

You can check if you can pay less council tax.

Empty homes premium for long-term empty properties

The council can charge you an 'empty homes premium' if your home is empty and unfurnished for 2 years or more - you pay this on top of your council tax.

The premium can cost up to:

  • 100% of your council tax if your home is empty for over 2 years

  • 200% of your council tax if your home is empty for over 5 years

From 1 April 2021, the premium can cost up to 300% of your council tax if your home is empty for over 10 years.

It doesn't matter if you furnish or occupy the home for short periods in those years. The council will consider the home empty until you furnish and occupy it for more than 6 weeks in a row.

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 council should send you a reply within 2 months.

If they don't 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 

  • 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

  • you’re a student - read more about council tax for students

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Page last reviewed on 06 January 2020