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Council tax

This information applies to Scotland only

What is council tax

Council tax is a system of local taxation collected by local authorities. It is a tax on domestic property but 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.

Some people do not have to pay any council tax. Some people are liable to pay it but get a discount.

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 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 £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:-

  • inspect a copy of the valuation list held by your local authority – see below
  • look at the council tax valuation lists published on the internet by the Scottish Assessors Association at www.saa.gov.uk
  • check with your local authority
  • if you are the person responsible for paying council tax (the liable person), check your council tax bill. For more information about who is a liable person, see under heading Who has to pay council tax.

A copy of the valuation list is kept at the local authority's main offices and is available for public inspection. Local authorities may also make the list available in other offices, including libraries. There may 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 authority will then issue a revised council tax bill.

Properties exempt from council tax

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

Properties which are exempt include:-

  • property which is empty, for example because the owner has died. In order to be exempt, the property has to be unoccupied and unfurnished. The exemption applies for a maximum of six months. Local authorities can then offer an empty homes discount of 10 to 50 per cent for homes that are unoccupied for 6-12 months. After being empty for one year, the council can place an additional council tax surcharge on the property. This surcharge can be up to 100 per cent of the council tax charge. The surcharge will not be applied if the property is being actively marketed for sale or rent and has been empty for less than two years.
  • 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 one or more school or college leavers aged under 20, who left school or college after 30 April after studying for more than twelve 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 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 one person, called the liable person, is liable 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 one 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; or
  • the people who live in the property are all under the age of 18; or
  • 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·or
  • 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 properties are bed and breakfast establishments or hotels
  • 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 one person lives in a property they will be the liable person. If more than one 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:-

  • 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 six months or more.

How much is council tax

Each year, every local authority 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 authority with the council tax and passed on to Scottish Water.

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

  • the reduction scheme for disabled people
  • discounts
  • a reduction in liability for the council tax bill (see next paragraph).

From 1 April 2013, reduction in liability for the council tax bill is through the national Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate. Before that date, the reduction came from council tax benefit and second adult rebate.

You may be able to get help with paying for public water and sewerage charges.

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 may 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.

An application for this reduction must be made in writing to the local authority. Many local authorities will have a special application form. Some will ask for supporting evidence, for example, a doctor’s letter.

If you think that you may 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 per cent if there is one adult liable to pay the council tax counted as living in the property (a single person's discount)
  • up to 50 per cent in a range of circumstances like a property being empty or it is a second home or holiday home.

You are disregarded for council tax if you are :

  • 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 is not your normal home
  • prisoners or someone in detention awaiting deportation
  • being detained in a hospital or hostel under mental health legislation
  • are severely mentally impaired
  • full-time student on a qualifying course of education (including correspondence or on-line courses); student nurses; Foreign Language Assistants 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 six months of the completed course
  • 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 of your old age, physical or mental disability, past or present alcohol or drug dependence or past or present mental illness
  • care workers or live-in carer
  • 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 authority about their energy efficiency discount scheme for council tax.

For information on council tax discount and energy efficiency, see grants and schemes to help you save money on energy bills.

Check if a discount has been applied

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

If you believe that you are entitled to a discount and your bill does not show that you have had one, you should apply to the local authority for a discount, as soon as possible.

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

Holiday homes and second homes

Furnished holiday or second homes will be liable for council tax but will have a 10% - 50% discount because no one lives there on a permanent basis.

Council Tax Benefit and second adult rebate before 1 April 2013

A person who was liable to pay council tax before 1 April 2013 could claim Council Tax Benefit. The amount of benefit they got depended on their income and capital.

If you had someone living with you who was not liable to pay the council tax on your property, you might have been able to claim a benefit called a ‘second adult rebate’. You could not claim a second adult rebate as well as Council Tax Benefit. If you were entitled to both, you should have received whichever was the higher.

Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate from 1 April 2013

A person who is liable to pay council tax from 1 April 2013 may be able to apply for Council Tax Reduction (CTR). The CTR reduces the amount of council tax they are liable to pay. The amount of the reduction will depend on their income and capital.

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

For details of Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate, see What is Council Tax Reduction

Help with paying for public water and sewerage charges

You may be entitled to help with paying public water and sewerage charges. Your council tax bill may have only water and sewerage charges to pay, for example, if you get maximum Council Tax Reduction (see previous paragraph).

How to pay council tax

Council tax bills should be sent out by April. You have the right to pay by 10 instalments. Local authorities may accept weekly, fortnightly or monthly payments. Some may 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 authority must issue a reminder, asking for payment within seven days. If you fail to pay within this period, you lose the right to pay by instalments and a full year's council tax becomes payable.

When you have not paid an instalment of council tax within 28 days of the date it is due, the local authority may apply to the sheriff court for a summary warrant to show you are liable to pay the arrears. It must offer you time to pay the debt. If you cannot reach an agreement with the authority to pay off the arrears, or you can't keep to the payments under the time to pay order, the authority can enforce the summary warrant by making deductions from your income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, universal credit or wages, or having sheriff officers seize your goods to the value of the amount owed. Many of your possessions will be exempt from seizure.

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

Arrears of water and sewerage charges

If you have arrears of public water and sewerage charges, the local authority may use council tax enforcement measures (see previous paragraph), or if you are on certain benefits it can ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to make deductions from your benefits for water and sewerage charges.

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 may have been taken by the local assessor or by the local authority. If you are not sure where to make the appeal you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

What to do 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 may review your band. They will write to you to let you know their decision. Bear in mind that, 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 six 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 someone with a disability.

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 – see under heading Valuation appeal committee.

For more information about council tax banding, see the Scottish Assessors Association’s website at www.saa.gov.uk.

There is a fact sheet about what to do if you think your council tax band is wrong on the Scottish Public Ombudsman website at www.spso.org.uk PDF .

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 or not the water and/or sewerage charges for the property are due and you are 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 people with disabilities 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 authority with your complaint. The local authority should send you a reply within two months.

If it does not agree with you, you can appeal against its decision to the valuation appeal committee (see below). If the local authority does not reply within two months, you can appeal direct to the valuation appeal committee without waiting for the reply of the local authority, as long as not more than four months have passed since you first wrote to the local authority.

The valuation appeal committee cannot hear appeals about why you have not paid your council tax. Also it cannot hear appeals about the level of a discount the local authority has decided to set for second homes or long-term empty homes. The level of these discounts can only be challenged in the court by a legal procedure called judicial review. You will need specialist legal advice before taking one of these cases.

Valuation appeal committee

An appeal must be made by notifying the council within a period of four 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 originalcouncil tax bill whilst your appeal is outstanding.

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

There are time limits within which you can appeal – see above. 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 four 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 are 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.

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 home dwellers

There are particular points to remember in the following circumstances:-

  • if you live permanently in a hotel – you will not 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 a full council tax on your main home
  • 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 are a full-time student in advanced education (or Foreign Language Assistant on the official British Council programme) – you will have to pay council tax if you are 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 and if some of the residents are students or Foreign Language Assistants, the council tax may be reduced.There is a comprehensive leaflet about students and apprentices and council tax liability on the website of the Scottish Government at www.scotland.gov.uk PDF

If you are in any of these groups and need further information you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.