Council Tax - Who should pay council tax?

Council tax is charged on most homes whether it is a house, flat, bungalow or caravan and whether it is owned or rented.

It is usually the person or persons living in the property that will be the liable person to pay the council tax. The Council has to decide who the liable person is before we issue a council tax bill.

To help us decide who the liable person is we use a system called the ‘Hierarchy of Liability’ to work out who has to pay the council tax.

The person nearest to the top of the hierarchy table detailed below is the person who has to pay. Two people at the same point of the hierarchy table have the same responsibility to pay unless one of them is a full time student or is severely mentally impaired. If no one lives in the property then the owner has to pay the council tax.

The hierarchy of liability is: 

  1. A resident who owns the freehold
  2. A resident who owns the leasehold
  3. A resident who is an assured tenant or is a statutory or secure tenant
  4. A resident who is a licensee. This means that they are not a tenant but have permission to stay there
  5. Any resident, for example, a squatter
  6. An owner/ leaseholder (of at least 6 months) of the property who does not live there

Couples living together will be jointly liable, even if there is only one name on the council tax bill. This applies whether the couple is married, living together or in a civil partnership.

A resident is someone who has their main residence in the property and is 18 years old or over.

Sole or Main Residence

The term ‘sole or main residence’ is not defined in council tax law and as a result the Council must look to principles that have been accepted by the courts. Those main principles are:

  • Residence implies a degree of permanence
  • Temporary presence at an address does not make a person resident there
  • Temporary absence does not deprive a person of residence

Where a person has 2 or more homes, it will usually be obvious which their main residence is. This applies equally to cases where a person spends part of the time living abroad. If they live mainly in this country, it is likely that they will have their main residence here for the whole year.

In establishing sole or main residence, the following factors should be considered:

  • Intention to return to a property – this is particularly relevant where a person lives elsewhere for the purposes of employment
  • Time spent at a property
  • Where are the personal belongings located?
  • Where is the matrimonial home?
  • Where does someone have their greatest security of tenure – i.e. do they own one home but rent another
  • Where are the children educated?
  • Where are they registered for voting purposes?
  • Where do they have their dentist or doctor?

In any dispute concerning ‘sole or main residence’ the Council must take it’s guidance from the High Court. Any decision regarding sole or main residence can be appealed in writing to the Council Tax team.

Property Owners Liable to Council Tax

There are some properties where the owner, rather than the residents, will always be responsible for payment. The hierarchy of liability does not apply to these properties.

The owner will be liable in the case of:

  • Houses in multiple occupation where the residents do not form a single household and pay their rent separately for different parts of the property. The tenants will usually have separate tenancy agreements. These are properties which are determined as houses in multiple occupation (HMO) for council tax purposes and may differ from HMO classifications for planning or other purposes.
  • Residential care or nursing homes, and some types of hostels which provide care
  • Homes occupied by Religious communities
  • Homes which are occasionally occupied by the owner and whose domestic staff are also resident
  • Properties occupied by ministers of religion, as a residence from which the ministers duties of office are carried out
  • Properties provided to asylum seekers

What if I think I don't have to pay council tax?

If you don't think you have to pay council tax, you should fill in the Council Tax - Change of Circumstance form online.

If you are not happy with our response, you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal