Council Tax is a tax paid every year to your local authority or council to provide services including policing, rubbish collection and street lighting.
The Council Tax is a flat rate based on the value of your home. Your home is valued at one of eight bands and each local authority sets its own Council Tax rate for each band. The Council Tax Bill can be a big part of your monthly spending, so it’s wise to try to keep the costs down.
You’ll usually have to make 10 monthly payments of Council Tax, although you can ask your local authority to spread them out over 12 months to make it easier for you to budget.
Not everyone has to pay full Council Tax, and you can also get help paying your Council Tax through:
Council Tax exemption
Your property can be exempt from Council Tax because of who lives there or certain circumstances about the dwelling. Your home will be exempt from Council Tax if the only residents are:
- full-time students
- aged under 18
- severely mentally impaired
A home could be exempt for a limited period if it is:
- unfurnished and has been empty for up to six months (an empty homes discount of up to 50% applies)
- undergoing major repairs to make it habitable (for up to 12 months)
- homes that form part of the estate of someone who has died (may be exempt for up to six months after the grant of probate or letters of administration)
- homes left empty by someone who has moved to receive personal care in a hospital or similar setting
- annexes that can't be let separately from the main dwelling without breaching planning conditions
To apply for exemption from Council Tax, you need to write to the council for the area where the home is located. You should detail the reasons you believe your home should be exempt – for example, your home is empty because you’re a carer who’s moved in with someone to look after them.
After you have applied for a Council Tax exemption, the council may then send you a form to fill out, to help it decide. Once you’ve submitted the form, the council will then write to you giving its decision.
If the council decides that you qualify for Council Tax exemption, you won't have to pay the tax for as long as the reasons you gave remain the same.
If the council decides that you don't qualify for Council Tax exemption, and you disagree with its decision, you may want to seek advice – for example from Citizens Advice.
If your circumstances that may affect your Council Tax change again, you must write to your council to let them know. The council may decide that you should not receive a Council Tax exemption and that you now have to pay. If that happens and you disagree with the decision, you can appeal to a valuation tribunal.
Some properties have two or more separate self-contained dwellings. If there are family relatives who live in separate dwellings within the property and one of the relatives is dependent on the other, the flat where the dependent relative lives may qualify for Council Tax exemption. The dependent relative must be aged 65 or older, severely mentally impaired or have a substantial and permanent disability.
Council Tax discount
When calculating your Council Tax bill, the local authority assumes that two or more adults aged over 18 live in the home. You do not have to pay more Council Tax if more than two adults live in your home.
However, you will get a 25% discount if there are fewer than two adults living in your home, or because certain people are "ignored" (for Council Tax purposes) and only one person is counted as living in your home.
You will get a 50% discount if there are no adults living in your home, or because everyone who lives there has been "ignored" and no one is counted as living in your home. There is a list of who is exempt from Council Tax on GOV.UK.
‘Severe mental impairment’ and Council Tax eligibility
A person is considered "severely mentally impaired" if they have a severe impairment of intelligence and social functioning, and this impairment appears to be permanent. This might be, for instance, because they have a condition such as Alzheimer’s disease, have had a stroke, or have severe learning difficulties.
To qualify for the discount, they will need proof from a registered medical practitioner. They must also be entitled to specific disability benefits.
If you live with the person you care for and they satisfy the rules above, and you satisfy the rules to be a carer for Council Tax purposes, then both you and the person you care for can be ignored.
A discount because of severe mental impairment can be made regardless of the income or savings of the person concerned.
Backdating a Council Tax discount claim
Council Tax discount can be backdated to the date when Council Tax was first introduced, on April 1 1993.
You don't have to give a reason why you didn't previously apply for a discount, exemption or disability reduction, but you will need to provide evidence that you were eligible for previous years.
Challenging a Council Tax discount decision
The local authority may decide that that you should not receive a Council Tax discount, exemption or a disability reduction. You can challenge a decision by asking the local authority to look at the decision again.
If this does not work, you can appeal against the decision at a valuation tribunal. It's important that you continue to pay your Council Tax even if you're challenging the decision with the local authority or appealing through a valuation tribunal. If you don't, you may get behind with payments and your local authority may take action to make you pay the arrears.
You can appeal to an independent body called a valuation tribunal if you disagree with the local authority’s decision (up to two months after the local authority has told you its decision), or the local authority has not replied to your letter within two months (up to four months from the date of your letter to the local authority).
The tribunal will hear the following types of cases:
- If you think you shouldn't be responsible for paying the Council Tax and your local authority believes you should.
- If the local authority will not give you a disability reduction in your Council Tax bill even though you provide evidence that a disabled person lives in your home and that your home has been adapted to meet their needs in a way that would allow a reduction.
- If you think you should be given a discount or exemption on your Council Tax bill and the local authority doesn't agree.
Valuation tribunals do not deal with appeals regarding Council Tax benefit, why you haven't paid your Council Tax, or the level of Council Tax set by a local authority.
You can either write to a valuation tribunal or ask it to send you a form to fill in. You can get the address of the valuation tribunal that covers your area from your local authority or the valuation tribunal website.
The valuation tribunal process
You will be asked to make an appeal in writing and include:
- which decision you are appealing against
- why you disagree with the local authority’s decision, or
- the fact that the local authority did not reply to your letter
The tribunal normally holds an oral hearing. This means you will go to the appeal in person and explain why you think the decision is wrong.
You will be sent information by the tribunal explaining the process. Hearings are informal and are usually dealt with in one day. You do not need legal representation and you will not have to pay for the hearing, unless you decide to appoint a solicitor or someone else to represent you.
If you win your case at tribunal, your local authority will revise your Council Tax accordingly.
Council Tax reduction
If you are having trouble paying Council Tax, you should contact your local authority about a Council Tax Reduction.
Council Tax Reduction (money off your bill) has replaced Council Tax Benefit (a benefit paid to you if you were on a low income).
Each local authority runs it’s own Council Tax Reduction scheme, so you will need to check the details with your local authority. Some local authorities operate a "default Council Tax Reduction" scheme, which entitles you to a reduction if you are have a "low income".
You can apply for Council Tax Reduction whether you own your home, rent, are unemployed or working.
What Council Tax Reduction you’ll get
The most you can get is a 100% Council Tax Reduction, but how much you get depends on:
- where you live – each council runs its own scheme
- your circumstances (for example, income or number of children)
- your household income – this includes things such as savings, pension, or your partner’s income
- if your children live with you
- if other adults live with you
People of Pension Credit qualifying age who have a low income and savings will get full Council Tax Reduction.
How to apply for a Council Tax Reduction
Each local authority offers its own local scheme of Council Tax Reduction.
Contact your local council to apply for Council Tax Reduction.
If you are not eligible for your local authority’s Council Tax Reduction scheme, you should check if you can get Discretionary help with your Council Tax. You will need to contact your local authority to ask if they offer discretionary help and to find out whether you are eligible.
The government's official online source of information on benefits is GOV.UK.