Can you avoid paying council tax on the property you live in? Some people legally can, such as those who live alone, while others cannot. 

There are different rules depending on who lives in the property with you, or if you have an empty home. 

But be careful, if you try to avoid this tax wrongfully, there could be consequences. 

Scroll down below to find information on property types and council tax bills. Or head straight to the end of the guide to read quickfire FAQs on the subject. 

What is council tax?

Council tax is a tax payable by people across Britain who rent or own a property. Most people are subject to payment, but there are concessions and special exceptions. The tax is used for nearby maintenance and services. 

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What factors affect council tax?

Each property in Britain is placed in a council tax band which dictates how much the tax payments will be each fiscal year. 

But there are more factors that affect your bill, including:

  1. Size of the property
  2. Number of inhabitants
  3. Status of inhabitants
  4. Location
  5. Nearby amenities and services

Who has to pay council tax?

If you live in a property as a renter or homeowner, the chances are that you have to pay council tax to your authority. There are limited instances where you will not be subject to the tax.

Who is not liable for council tax?

Those exempt from paying council tax are:

  1. Under 18s
  2. 18 and 19 year olds in full-time education
  3. Some apprentices
  4. College and university students
  5. Under 25s with certain skills funding
  6. Some disabled people
  7. Some non-related carers
  8. British Council language assistants 
  9. Diplomats

How can you get a discount on council tax?

Your local council tax bill is always based on a minimum of two adults sharing the property. Thus, if you live alone in the property, you can get a 25% reduction.

If none of the people in the property are recognised paying adults, such as two diplomats, a 50% reduction will be applied.

If everyone in the property is a full-time student (recognised by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation), no council tax money needs to be paid. 

When do you have to pay council tax on empty properties?

If you own an empty property, you can apply to have a council tax reduction. It will be up to your local authority to decide if they will award a discount on the property or not – but most do offer something.

If you own an empty property for more than two years in England or Wales, the council tax owed can be doubled. 

In Scotland, the council tax can be doubled after one year on an empty property.

If you have inherited a property that remains empty, you will not pay this tax until after probate, and even then you can get a further six months extension. 

Do you pay council tax on second homes?

Paying council tax on second homes and holiday homes is different. If you have a second home that is furnished and used (possibly rented out with people living in it), you can apply for a reduction of up to 50%.

The discount you receive on a second home is up to the authority.

What happens if you lie about council tax?

If you try to get a council tax reduction by lying, such as telling the council that an occupier is in full-time education when they are not, the local authority may prosecute you. Or they might give you a financial penalty for evasion. 

Similarly, you could be prosecuted or fined for not telling the council that your circumstances have changed to keep getting a reduction you are no longer entitled to. 

Council tax evasion penalties

In most cases, the council will penalise first offenders with an evasion penalty. 

If you claimed a reduction wrongfully, the evasion penalty will be 50% of the reduction you received plus 100% of the reduction back (min £100 and max £1,000).

If you didn’t get a reduction wrongfully but still tried to evade council tax in your application, you will be hit with the minimum £100 penalty. 

If you gave incorrect information but this was judged as careless rather than with an intention to evade the tax, your fine will be £70. This fine may be wiped if you alert the council of the error first. 

Common reasons for council tax arrears

The most common reasons for getting into council tax arrears are:

  1. Evasion fines
  2. Financial difficulty (unemployment, debts, Covid 19 and illness etc.)
  3. Not paying council tax correctly on a main home, second home or empty house
  4. Backdated incorrect reduction claims

How to get out of council tax debt

Here are some ways to get out of council tax debts:

  1. Prevention not cure!

Prevent getting into council tax debts in the first place by agreeing to pay the correct amount for your property and occupants. Do not make false reduction claims and make the council aware of any application mistakes first.

Also make use of the various repayment frequency options (weekly, fortnightly, monthly etc.) and payment methods that match your needs. 

  1. Repayment Plans

If you do get into debt, you’re not alone. Make sure to communicate with the council and see if they can offer you a repayment plan to make the debt affordable. 

If you repay the money owed in an affordable plan, you can avoid further financial difficulty. Contact a charity for support. 

  1. Debt Solutions

A repayment plan is not the only debt solution. There are other ways to get out of council tax debt over time, and some might even help you write off all or some of the money owed. 

Search our debt solutions page for information. 

What happens if you don’t pay the debt?

If you don’t cough up, you can be issued with a liability order and the council can use enforcement means to recover what you owe, including bailiffs. 

It can get a lot more expensive for you at this point!

Can you go to prison for an unpaid council tax bill?

If the council fails to get the tax you owe with various enforcement methods, they can apply to the Magistrates’ Court for a hearing. If the court finds that you are willfully avoiding or neglecting the debt, they can send you to prison for up to 90 days. 

Quickfire FAQs Section

Who decides the council tax of an address?

The council tax band of each house was decided in 1991, which means there are many inaccuracies. You can challenge yours!

Who gets a council tax reduction?

Some people can get a reduction, including sole occupiers, diplomats and some disabled people. 

Does a student house pay?

No, students in full-time education are not subject to this tax. 

What happens if I wrongfully claim a reduction?

You can be fined 50% of your wrongful claim and all of the money back up to a maximum for £1,000. 

Do you pay on an empty property?

You can apply for a reduction on an empty property. If the property is unoccupied due to death, nothing will need to be paid until after probate and can be extended for a further six months. 

Is there a legal way to avoid my council tax?

You can legally avoid paying with a genuine reduction claim or being one of the people not subject to this tax only. 

Can bailiffs force their way into my house?

In most cases, no. But they can come through unlocked and ajar doors. 

What is a liability order?

An order making you liable for the council tax debt made by a court. 

When is council tax written off?

The debt may be wiped after six years in England or Wales or 20 years in Scotland.

What is an attachment of earnings order?

A way that the council can recover the payment through your wages. 

Can I go to jail for unpaid council tax?

It is possible to be sent to jail for 90 days.

Can a debt management company help?

Possibly, but so can debt charities. 

About the author

Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson is a financial services expert, with over 10 years’ experience in the industry, including 6 years in FCA regulated companies. Read more
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