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Council tax

This advice applies to Scotland

Coronavirus - council tax

You might qualify for a council tax reduction if your income has dropped or if you started claiming benefits recently.

You should check with your local council to see if you qualify for a council tax reduction or use our check my council tax tool to see if you can reduce your bill.

If you don't think you qualify, it's still worth asking your local council if you can get a reduction or other help with the bill. You should continue to prioritise paying your council tax and your rent or mortgage.

If you're struggling to pay, ask the council if they can be flexible about your payments due to coronavirus. They might agree to a payment plan or to delay taking action against you for missed payments. Check their website for council tax advice.

Find your local council on mygov.scot

Empty properties

You might be exempt from paying council tax on an empty property you own if:

  • it has been empty from or after 17 March 2020 because of coronavirus
  • it was exempt from council tax when it was occupied - for example, because students were living there.

The exemption started on 27 May 2020. You will need to pay council tax again when the property is occupied or the law changes. 

Contact your local council as soon as possible to tell them the property is empty. 

If you don't qualify for council tax exemption, you should still contact your local council. Explain how re-letting or selling the property has been affected by coronavirus. You might be able to defer a payment or sort out a payment plan. 

Low income pandemic payment

You might be able to get a payment of £130 if you were getting a council tax reduction in April 2021. You might also get it if you don’t have to pay council tax, for example, because you’re living in temporary accommodation.   

Find out more about the low income pandemic payment.

What is council tax

Council tax is a tax on domestic property collected by local councils. The money is used to pay for local services like rubbish collection, roads and street lighting. The rules about who has to pay it are quite complicated.

Some property is exempt from council tax either because no-one lives in it, or because of the condition it is in, or because the people who live in it are exempt from paying council tax.

Some people can get a discount on their council tax bill, and some don’t have to pay any council tax.

Valuation bands

All residential properties are given a council tax valuation band by the local assessor. 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 has 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 £27,000
B Over £27,000 and up to £35,000
C Over £35,000 and up to £45,000
D Over £45,000 and up to £58,000
E Over £58,000 and up to £80,000
F Over £80,000 and up to £106,000
G Over £106,000 and up to £212,000
H Over £212,000

Finding out what band a property is in

To find out what band a property is in, you can:

  • look at the council tax valuation lists on the Scottish Assessors Association website
  • check your council tax bill 
  • ask your local council
  • check a copy of the valuation list at your local council's main office. It might be available in other offices, including libraries. There might be a small charge.

If the valuation list is changed, for example, if a property is put into a different band, the local assessor will write to the council tax payer, informing them of the change. The local council will then send a new council tax bill.

Properties exempt from council tax

There is a new exemption for empty properties because of coronavirus. 

You might be exempt from paying council tax on an empty property you own if:

  • it has been empty from or after 17 March 2020 because of coronavirus
  • it was exempt from council tax when it was occupied - for example, because students were living there.

The exemption started on 27 May 2020. You will need to pay council tax again when the property is occupied or the law changes. 

Some property is exempt from council tax altogether. It might be exempt for only a short period, for example, 6 months, or indefinitely. It might be exempt because of who lives in it.

Properties which are exempt include: 

  • property which is empty because the owner died. The property has to be unoccupied and unfurnished. The exemption applies for a maximum of 6 months. Local councils can then offer an empty homes discount of 10% to 50% for homes that are unoccupied for 6 to12 months. After being empty for 1 year, the council can place an additional council tax surcharge on the property. This surcharge can be up to 100% of the council tax charge. The surcharge won't be applied if the property is being actively marketed for sale or rent and has been empty for less than 2 years. If the person died because of coronavirus an exemption might be applied from 27 May 2020 if they were in a certain group of exempt people and the sole occupant
  • property which is vacant because it needs major repairs or alterations to make it habitable. The exemption applies for a maximum of 12 months whether the work is actually finished or not by then  
  • 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 other type of shared property
  • a holiday caravan or boat is exempt if it's on a property where council tax is paid
  • a property occupied solely by 1 or more school or college leavers aged under 20, who left school or college after 30 April after studying for more than 12 hours a week on a course not higher than A levels or Scottish highers. The property is exempt until 1 November of the same year
  • a property occupied only by people aged 18 and up to 26 who have left the care of the local council 
  • a property where all the people who live in it are aged under 18
  • a property where all the people who live in it are severely mentally impaired
  • unoccupied agricultural dwellings
  • housing association 'trial' housing
  • a building owned by a registered social landlord which is waiting for demolition
  • a property which is unoccupied because it is difficult to let separately (for example a granny flat).

If you think that your property should be exempt, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Who has to pay council tax

Usually 1 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 liable, even if there is only 1 name on the bill. This applies whether the couple is married, cohabiting or in a civil partnership.

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:

  • 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 people who live in the property are all asylum seekers who are not entitled to claim benefits or apply for help with council tax
  • the property is a care home, hospital, hostel for homeless people or women's refuge
  • the people who live there are residents of long stay hospital wards included on the valuation list
  • the people who live in the property are domestic servants in a second home occupied from time to time by the owner. The owner is liable if all the residents of the second home are either employed in domestic service or are the family members of the employee in domestic service
  • the property is a bed and breakfast or hotel
  • the people who live there are members of religious communities whose principal occupation is prayer, contemplation, education or the relief of suffering
  • the person who lives there is a minister of religion of any faith who does not own the property but who lives and works there
  • people are staying in a holiday caravan or boat which is parked/moored on another property and is therefore not a separate dwelling.

If you think that the owner of the property should be paying the council tax, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

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. If there are 2 people at the same point of the hierarchy, they will both be liable.

The hierarchy of liability is:

  • a resident who owns all or part of the property
  • a resident who is a tenant of all or part of the property
  • a resident who is a sub-tenant of all or part of the property
  • a resident with no security of tenure
  • a non-resident owner of any part of the property unless there is a non-resident tenant or sub-tenant who has a lease (or sub-lease) of 6 months or more.

It might be very difficult to work out who is liable to pay council tax in a property when there is a mixture of people 18 or over renting together. Students and co-renters who are working might need advice if the tenancy is shared.

Although a student might be exempt from paying a council tax bill if they live on their own or the property only has other students living in it, if they own the property or are the sole tenant they could be the liable person.

Find out how you can get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau on who is liable to pay council tax.

For example, if you're a student owner-occupier and have a tenant who is employed, you will be responsible for the bill after it is reduced by 25% for the single person's discount. The single person discount applies because you're not counted as being due to pay a proportion since you're a student, although you are the liable person.

How much is council tax

Each year, every local council will set a rate of council tax for each valuation band. You pay the council tax and there is a separate annual charge for using public water and sewerage which is collected by the local council with the council tax and passed on to Scottish Water. Find out more about paying for water and sewerage.

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

Reduction scheme for disabled people

If an adult or child who is substantially and permanently disabled lives in the home, the council tax bill for the property might be reduced. The council tax will be charged 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. If your property is 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 that the property has at least 1 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 apply for this reduction in writing to the local council. Many local councils will have a special application form. Some will ask for supporting evidence, for example, a doctor’s letter.

If you think that you might be entitled to a reduction because someone in your household is disabled you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Discounts and disregards

The council tax that has to be paid in a property can become very complicated to work out when some people who live in it are disregarded but others are liable to pay. There are also extra complications in working out what has to be paid when those who are not disregarded are eligible for a discount, for example because they are the only person who has to pay so can claim a single person discount.

The general rules about discounts are:

  • 25% if there is 1 adult liable to pay the council tax counted as living in the property (a single person's discount)
  • up to 50% in a range of circumstances like if the property is empty, a second home or holiday home.

You're disregarded for council tax if you're:

  • aged 17 or under (you have to be at least 18 before you have to pay the council tax)
  • living in the property temporarily and it's not your normal home
  • a prisoner or someone in detention awaiting deportation
  • being detained in a hospital or hostel under mental health legislation
  • are severely mentally impaired
  • a full-time student on a qualifying course of education (including correspondence or on-line courses); a student nurse; a Foreign Language Assistant on the official British Council programme
  • a full-time student who has completed a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or a Higher National Diploma (HND) and who has an offer of a place on the second or third year respectively of a full-time first degree course that will start within 6 months of the completed course
  • a care leaver aged between 18 and 26
  • a spouse, civil partner or a dependant of a student who is a non British Citizen and who is not allowed under immigration rules, either to work in the UK or claim benefit
  • a young person on a government training scheme or an apprentice (not all apprentices are disregarded)
  • long-term hospital patient and care home resident
  • living in a hostel which provides care or treatment because you're older, disabled, have past or present alcohol or drug dependence or past or present mental illness
  • a live-in carer of someone entitled to certain benefits. This doesn't apply if the person you're caring for is your spouse, partner or child aged under 18. You must be providing care for at least 35 hours a week
  • a live-in care worker, employed by a local council, charity or the person being cared for. You must be working at least 24 hours a week and earning £44 a week or less. If your employer is the person being cared for, you must have been introduced to them by a charity
  • staying in a hostel or night shelter, for example, in a Salvation Army or Church Army hostel
  • school or college leaver still aged under 20 who has left school or college after 30 April. You will be disregarded until 1 November of the same year whether or not you take up employment
  • aged 18 but someone can claim child benefit for you
  • member of a religious community
  • member of visiting armed forces or their dependants.

Energy efficiency discount

You can ask your local council about their energy efficiency discount scheme for council tax.

For information about energy savings, see Grants and benefits to help you pay energy bills.

Check if a discount has been applied

A local council might 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 does not show that you have had one, you should apply to the local council for a discount, as soon as possible.

If the bill shows that the local council has applied a discount and you do not think that you should have one, you must tell the local council within 21 days. If you do not do this the local council might later impose a penalty.

Holiday homes and second homes

Furnished holiday or second homes will be liable for council tax. Your local council can choose not to grant any discount, or can grant a discount between 10% and 50% discount.

When a discount is applied, you need to check with your local council if there is also a reduction for water and sewerage charges. In many areas there might not be.

Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate 

If you're liable to pay council tax, you might be able to apply for Council Tax Reduction (CTR). The CTR reduces the amount of council tax you're liable to pay. The amount of the reduction will depend on your income and capital.

If you have someone living with you who is not liable to pay the council tax on your property, you might be able to apply for a special type of CTR called a 'second adult rebate'. You won't be able to claim a second adult rebate as well as a Council Tax Reduction. If you're entitled to both, you will receive whichever is the higher.

For details of Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate, see Can you get Council Tax Reduction.

Help with paying for public water and sewerage charges

You might be entitled to help with paying public water and sewerage charges. Your council tax bill might have only water and sewerage charges to pay, for example, if you get maximum Council Tax Reduction. Find out more about paying for water and sewerage.

Check if you can reduce your council tax bill 

You can use our Check my council tax tool to help you find out whether you are exempt from having to pay council tax, or you're eligible for a discount or reduction in your bill.

How to pay council tax

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

Arrears

When you have not paid an instalment of council tax on the date it is due, your local council must issue a reminder, asking for payment within 7 days. If you don't pay within this period, you lose the right to pay by instalments and you'll be asked to pay the rest of the year's council tax within 7 days.

When you have not paid an instalment of council tax within 14 days of the date it is due, the local council might apply to the sheriff court for a summary warrant to show you're liable to pay the arrears. If you cannot reach an agreement with the council to pay off the arrears, or you can't keep to the payments under a time to pay order, the council can enforce the summary warrant by:

  • making deductions from your benefits, like Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, or Universal Credit
  • making deductions from your wages
  • having sheriff officers seize your goods to the value of the amount owed. Many of your possessions will be exempt from seizure.

If you're in arrears of council tax, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Find out more about dealing with council tax arrears.

Arrears of water and sewerage charges

If you have arrears of public water and sewerage charges, the local council might use council tax enforcement measures, or if you're on certain benefits it can ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to make deductions from your benefits for water and sewerage charges. Find out more about collecting water and sewerage arrears.

Change of circumstances

If your circumstances change during the year and you think this might affect your council tax, you should tell the council tax department at your local council. For example, if you were living alone and getting the single person discount, you will need to tell your council if someone else moves in with you.

Overpayments and underpayments

Council tax bills are based on an estimate of how much council tax you'll be liable to pay for that year. If something changes during the year, such as who is living in your household, then the amount of council tax you have to pay might change. This might mean that you have overpaid or underpaid your council tax.

If you haven’t paid enough council tax, the council will send you a new bill, showing what you have left to pay.

If you paid more than you need to pay for the whole year, you can ask your council for a refund. The council must give you this unless you have any arrears of council tax from a previous year. In that case, the council will use the overpayment to pay off the arrears.

If you don't ask for a refund, the council can either repay you or keep the overpayment to pay towards any future council tax that you have to pay.

Appeals

You can appeal about a number of decisions that have been taken about your council tax and water and/or sewerage charge liability.

The decision that you want to appeal might have been taken by the local assessor or by the local council. If you're not sure where to make the appeal you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

If you think your council tax band is wrong

If you think your council tax band is wrong, you should first contact the local assessor. Many enquiries can be sorted out on the spot.

In some cases, the local assessor might review your band. They will write to you to let you know their decision. If your home is already in band A, which is the lowest band, the local assessor cannot reduce the band further.

In some cases, you can make a formal application to have your band changed. This is called making a proposal.

You can make a proposal within 6 months of:

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

You can also make a proposal 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 a disabled person. 

If you want to make a proposal, ask the local assessor to send you a proposal form to fill in.

If you disagree with the local assessor’s decision on your proposal, you can appeal to an independent valuation appeal committee.

There's more information about council tax banding on the Scottish Assessors Association’s website.

There's a fact sheet about what to do if you think your council tax band is wrong on the Scottish Public Ombudsman website .

Other complaints about council tax

You can complain to your local council 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 2 or more people on the same level of hierarchy or where someone is jointly liable because they are 1 of a couple
  • whether or not the water and/or sewerage charges for the property are due and you're the liable person
  • whether or not the calculation of the water and/or sewerage charges is correct
  • whether a property is exempt
  • whether a discount applies
  • whether or not the reduction scheme for disabled people applies to you.

The following people can complain:

  • a liable person, including someone who is jointly liable
  • someone who is directly affected by the decision, for example, the executor of the estate of a liable person who has died.

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

If you're not happy with the council's decision, you can appeal against it to the valuation appeal committee. If the local council doesn't reply within 2 months, you can appeal direct to the valuation appeal committee, as long as it's less than 4 months since you first wrote to the local council.

Valuation appeal committee

An appeal must be made by notifying the council within 4 months of the date on which you first raised your grievance with them. You must explain why you want to appeal and also state the date on which you wrote to the council. The council will pass your appeal to the secretary of the relevant local valuation appeal committee.

You must continue to pay your original council tax bill whilst your appeal is outstanding.

You do not have to pay anything to make an appeal.

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

It will send you a notice of the hearing – you should get at least 4 weeks notice. You are advised to go to the hearing in person to put your case. If you have problems understanding English, it can provide an interpreter. It can also arrange to meet other needs if you're disabled, for example, if you have mobility problems or need special equipment.

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

The valuation appeal committee cannot hear appeals about:

  • why you have not paid your council tax
  • the level of discount or surcharge for second homes or long-term empty homes (except where the discount is not within limits laid down in law). You can only challenge these discounts in court, using judicial review. You’ll need specialist legal advice before taking one of these cases.

If you want to make an appeal about council tax, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Particular circumstances including students and mobile homes

There are particular points to remember in the following circumstances:

If you live permanently in a hotel

You won't be liable for council tax on the property although the hotel charges would probably include an amount towards any council tax payable

If you have more than one home

You will probably pay a reduced council tax on your second home (if no-one lives there) and full council tax on your main home (unless you are entitled to discounts or reductions where you mainly live).

If you own or rent a caravan or mobile home 

If you live permanently in a caravan or mobile home you will have to pay the council tax unless you are disregarded because of other circumstances.

People who have a fixed caravan as a holiday home will pay business rates.

Towing caravans kept at your home will not be subject to either council tax or business rate.

If you're a full-time student or British Council Foreign Language Assistant

You'll have to pay council tax if you're the liable person for a property. However, if all the people living in the property are students or Foreign Language Assistants, no council tax will be payable.

If some of the residents are students or Foreign Language Assistants, the council tax might be reduced. 

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