Council Tax FAQs

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By Chloe Dickenson
Updated on Monday 7 June 2021

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Council tax is an annual fee that you have to pay to your local council and it goes towards spending on local services.

It’s not exactly something that’s enjoyable to pay, but it is an important payment that comes with being a homeowner or renter of a property.

In our complete guide to council tax in the UK, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about council tax bands, prices, what months you don’t have to pay council tax, what to do if you can’t afford to pay it and much more.

What is council tax?

Council tax is an annual payment that’s charged by your local authorities (the council) to pay for the various services it provides, such as rubbish colleciton, local police and fire services and education facilities.

Who pays council tax?

You will usually have to pay council tax if you’re aged 18 or over and if you’re a homeowner or you pay rent on a property. If everyone in your home is a full-time student, you won’t have to pay council tax.

If you’re married, or you just live with a partner or another adult, you will be jointly responsible for the payment of the council tax bill. However, if you live on your own, or you’re the only legal adult in your household, then 25% will be taken off your council tax bill.

What does council tax pay for?

Council tax pays for many local services, some of which you might not have even considered. Take a look below at some of the things the average council tax payment might go towards:

  • Fire and police services

  • Libraries and education services

  • Rubbish and other waste collection services

  • Upkeep of leisure and recreation centres such as parks or sports centres

  • Local transport and highway maintenance services such as street lamps

  • Recordkeeping services such as marriages, births, deaths and local elections

  • Environmental health and trading standards

How often do you have to pay council tax?

You usually pay your council tax bill over 10 monthly installments, followed by two months where you don’t pay anything, but you can ask to pay it over the course of 12 months if you’re struggling to make the payments.

Making the same payment every month for 12 months might help you to budget better and help you to manage the cost of council tax rates.

Council tax valuation bands

Instead of everyone paying the same amount of money for their council tax, there are numerous council tax band prices, known as valuation bands.

The UK has a range of 8 council tax valuation bands, ranging from A (the cheapest) to H (the highest) and the band you are assigned all depends on where you live.

How much is council tax?

In order to work out how much your council tax is, you can check your council tax band on the UK government website, or on your latest council tax bill.

The price you will pay will depend on numerous factors and not everyone will have to pay the same amount.

For example, your council tax bill might be reduced if you benefit from a discount due to being the only adult living at your property or if you’re considered to be a “disregarded” person (see more on this below).

How is council tax calculated?

Every property is banded from A to H, where A represents the lowest value properties and H the highest.

The main calculation used to form an initial banding is your property’s value from 1991. As this data can be considerably out of date, there are plenty of people still paying the wrong band for their council tax, but you can request a re-evaluation from the council which will update your band (hopefully helping to make your council tax cheaper). Some properties are still paying based on a value nearly 30 years out of date, though most others have been re-evaluated at some point along the way.

If you believe you are in the wrong band (for example, you pay more council tax than your neighbours, despite having near-identical properties), then you should contact the council and ask to be re-evaluated.

Who do I pay my council tax to?

You will pay your council tax to your local council. This can be done online on the government website for example, via direct debit or by cash or cheque at your local Post Office or PayPoint service.

Do you have to pay council tax?

Unless you’re considered to be a “disregarded” person who isn’t required to pay council tax, then you will have to make your regular council tax payments.

You can check online to see whether you’re exempt from paying council tax.

Who is exempt from council tax?

Properties are temporarily exempt from council tax if they fulfil any of the following criteria:

  • They are occupied entirely by full-time students

  • They are occupied entirely by people under 18 years old

  • The property is part of armed forces accommodation

  • The property is inhabitable, unoccupied and currently undergoing repair work to bring it to a habitable state – this exemption has a limit of 12 months

  • The property forms part of the estate of someone who has recently become deceased and is currently unoccupied – this exemption has a limit of 6 months after the grant of probate

  • The property has been repossessed by a mortgage lender or forms part of a bankruptcy arrangement and is also unoccupied

Am I eligible for a reduction on my council tax?

There are several examples of being eligible to get a reduction on your council tax; you might be able to get a discount or reduction on your council tax if:

  • You’re a student/live with students

  • You’re on a low income

  • You’re mentally impaired or you live with someone who is

  • You get certain benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance or income support

  • You’re a member of the armed forces (depending on your circumstances)

  • You’ve moved into a care home or you’ve had to go into hospital

What happens if I can't afford council tax and get into debt?

There are several things you can do.

If you fail to make the payments of your council tax bill, you will be in arrears, which means you owe your local council money for your council tax.

It’s a good idea to try and let your local council know as soon as possible if you think you might miss a council tax bill. Letting them know before means that they can help to come up with a solution for payment.

However, failure to do so, and missing your payment, could mean that you will have to pay the full year’s amount upfront, which you might not be able to afford.

Can you go to jail for not paying council tax?

In reality, councils are very unlikely to press for jail time and it would only happen in the most extreme example. It certainly isn’t something most people should worry about.

Like with all debts, the most important thing is communication. If you are struggling to pay your council tax, then you should immediately phone your local council and discuss the situation with them. It may be that you are entitled to a reduction for being on low income and even if not, they will do their best to reach a repayment plan with you that works.

Councils are entitled to ask for full disclosure of your finances if you ask them for help, so be prepared to submit bank statements and fill out forms detailing your expenses, but once this difficult process is complete, they are likely to be very helpful and may even wipe off sections of your debt to help.

It is always worth talking to them – they may also offer other advice regarding benefits you are entitled to and the phone call may result in you finding yourself with more help and available money than you realised you could get!

I'm on benefits - Do I have to pay council tax?

If you’re on welfare benefits, then you’re likely to be eligible to qualify for council tax support. You will need to check whether you’re eligible for this or not, and never just assume that because you’re on benefits, you won’t have to pay council tax.

When do you start paying council tax after buying a house?

The house will only legally belong to you on the day of completion, so you only have to start paying council tax for a house that you’ve bought on completion day, not on the day of exchange.

You don’t necessarily have to register for council tax at your new home on the exact day of completion, but you should aim to do so within at least two weeks of completing on your new home

What happens if you refuse to pay council tax?

While councils are willing to be very helpful to those who are trying but struggling to pay their bills, they take a very different stance to anyone who is wilfully determined not to pay their dues. Here, all the previously mentioned legal options available to them, from bailiffs to jail time, will be applied with full legal backing.

I rent - do I still have to pay council tax?

Yes – paying council tax is the responsibility of the tenant, not the landlord. Note, however, that some properties are rented inclusive of council tax (meaning the landlord has chosen to pay it) to make them more attractive to prospective tenants.

How can I avoid paying council tax?

If you are not exempt and do not fulfil the criteria for a reduction as detailed above, then you can’t avoid your council tax.

Do I have to pay council tax on an empty second property?

Different councils do have their own rules on how they treat empty properties. Some offer a discount on council tax for a limited time, while others charge a premium-in-order to encourage landlords and houseowners to use their properties!

Contact your local council for full details.

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