When are council tax bills reduced?
You may qualify for a council tax reduction if you are living on your own, with students, providing care or living with people in specific circumstances.
Indeed, you might be surprised by the number of situations that qualify for a reduction, from single-person discounts when you don't actually live alone, to the disabled band reduction scheme.
In this guide, we outline all of the discounts available and exemptions where you might not have to pay any council tax at all.
Use our 2020 council tax calculator to see how much your local authority charges for each council tax band.
Who is exempt from council tax?
All properties are placed in a council tax band, but in some cases, residents are exempt from paying the bill. This generally depends on who lives in the property or how it's being used.
Properties are exempt if all the people living in them are:
- only full-time students
- only people aged under 18
- members of the armed forces in armed forces accommodation
- people who have moved into a care home or hospital
- people living with somebody else to receive care for reasons of old age, disability, illness, past or present alcohol or drug dependence or past or present mental disorder
- people with severe mental impairment
- diplomats, as long as they are not a British citizen or have a main residence in the UK
- people detained in prison
Can I claim a council tax discount?
Council tax bills assume that two adults occupy the property as their main home. If only one resident lives there, the bill is reduced by 25% - known as the single-person discount.
Some people are not counted as a second resident for council tax bills, even if they live in the property. These are known as 'disregarded persons'.
You may qualify for a 25% single-person discount if you share your home with people who are considered 'disregarded'.
If everyone in the home is 'disregarded', you'll usually get a 50% discount (unless every resident is exempt, in which case there'll be no bill to pay).
Disregarded people for council tax include:
- an apprentice studying for a recognised qualification
- a young person (under 25) in approved training
- an 18 or 19-year-old in full-time education
- a student nurse
- people staying in hostels or night shelters
- carers (providing at least 35 hours' care a week) if they are not the main resident’s husband, wife or civil partner
- monks and nuns
- members of visiting forces
- a full-time student (attending university or college, or under the age of 20 and studying A levels or their equivalent)
- resident hospital patients
- people living in care homes
- people who are severely mentally impaired (this can include people with dementia)
- individuals with diplomatic privileges and immunities.
If you believe you qualify for a reduction or an exemption, you should write to your local council and make your case. You can jump to our section on how to apply for a reduction.
Find out more: paying council tax - how to change your details
Council tax reduction for low-income earners
If you're on a low income, you may eligible for a council tax reduction of up to 100%, which will be paid to you as a rebate.
Each local authority has different criteria for who is eligible to claim council tax reduction. The size of the rebate depends on your income, your savings and whether you live alone or with other adults in the same property.
To find out whether you qualify, contact your local authority.
If you're experiencing 'exceptional' hardship for reasons beyond your control (for instance, losing your job), you may qualify for hardship relief to temporarily reduce your council tax bill.
You may need to provide evidence of things like:
- your income being less than your outgoings
- having no savings
- personal circumstances preventing you from paying
- applications to other help such as benefits and reductions
- that you don't have access to other assets that could be used to pay your bill.
To find out if you're eligible, you'll need to contact your local council. The discount is granted at their discretion.
Second adult rebate
If you don't qualify for council tax reduction, but you share your home with a second adult who does (and is not your spouse or civil partner), you may be able to claim a second adult rebate.
If you qualify for both council tax reduction and a second adult rebate, your local authority should award you the higher amount.
All local councils have to provide a certain level of support for pensioners who have reached state pension age.
Those who receive the guarantee credit part of pension credit may not have to pay any council tax. Meanwhile, those who receive the savings part of pension credit - or have a low income and less than £16,000 in savings - may receive a council tax discount.
Contact your local council to find out what they offer in your area.
Council tax on empty properties
Councils can give a discount of up to 50% for homes that are empty and unfurnished.
However, councils in England and Wales also have the power to charge a premium of up to 100% extra on top of the normal council tax if a home has been empty for more than two years.
From April 2020, this premium can be increased to 200% if the property has been empty for five years, and from April 2021 you could be charged up to 300% if the property has been empty for more than 10 years.
In Scotland, you may already need to pay a 100% premium if your home is unoccupied for 12 months.
The time frames apply to the property, not each owner - so before you buy somewhere new, you should check how long the property has been empty if you're not planning on moving in straightaway.
Exempt empty properties
Some homes are exempt from council tax for as long as they stay empty, including those that are:
- undergoing major repair work to render the property habitable, or structural alteration (exemption ends after 12 months)
- part of the estate of someone who has died (for up to six months after the grant of probate)
- repossessed, taken into possession by a mortgage lender or owned by a liable person who is a trustee in bankruptcy.
For a property to be exempt for any of these reasons, you'll need to ask the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) to remove it from the council tax valuation list.
Second-home council tax discount
Councils may give discounts for furnished second homes or holiday homes. The discount will vary, at your council's discretion.
Most holiday-home owners get a 10% discount on council tax.
Some people, such as tenant publicans or members of the clergy who are provided with accommodation as part of their work, may qualify for a 50% discount on their second home.
If your second home is empty because you were required to move elsewhere by your employer, a 50% discount should be applied. You still will need to pay full council tax on the property that is your main home and apply for the discount in the local authority of your second home.
Annexe discounts and exemptions
If you have an annexe built on your land, it will generally be subject to a separate council tax bill.
However, if you live in an annexe as your main home, and the person who pays council tax on the main property is a relative, you may be able to get a 50% discount on the annexe council tax.
There'll be no council tax if the person living in the annexe is classed as a dependent of the person who owns the main property. Dependents are classed as being:
- age 65 or over
- substantially or permanently disabled
- severely mentally impaired.
If someone under the age of 18, or someone in full-time education, lives in the annexe, they'll also be exempt.
Where an annexe is empty and can't be let separately due to planning permission, it may also qualify for a council tax reduction.
Disabled band reduction scheme
Your council tax bill may be reduced if your home has features that are essential for the well-being of a person with a disability who lives there. These may include an additional bathroom or specially adapted kitchen, or extra space inside the property for using a wheelchair.
Households that are eligible get a one-band reduction in their council tax bill. The property must be home to at least one disabled person – either an adult or a child.
To apply for a reduction under the scheme, write to your council and ask for an application form.
Find out more: council tax bands
Councils may not know about your right to a discount until you tell them.
If you think you are eligible for a single-person discount or an exemption, write to your council when you receive a council tax bill.
Your council will ask you to provide supporting evidence. It must then inform you whether it's decided to grant you a reduction within two months.
If you disagree with the council’s verdict, you can appeal to a valuation tribunal. For the address of the tribunal, contact your council or visit the Valuation Tribunal Service website.
Find out more: disputing a council tax bill