Who has to pay council tax?

New council tax bills will be arriving any moment now, so it’s a good opportunity to look at how the system works work.

Usually one person, called the liable person, is liable to pay council tax. Nobody under the age of 18 can be a liable person. Couples living together will both be jointly and severally liable, even if there is only one name on the bill. This applies whether the couple is married, cohabiting or in a civil partnership. No one is under an obligation to make a payment until they are issued with a bill in their name or, if they are jointly and severally liable, with a joint taxpayers’ notice.

Usually, the person living in a property will be the liable person, but sometimes it will be the owner of the property who will be liable to pay.

The owner will be liable if:

  • the property is in multiple occupation, for example, a house shared by a number of different households who all pay rent separately; or
  • the people who live in the property are all under the age of 18; or
  • the property is accommodation for asylum seekers; or
  • the people who are staying in the property are there temporarily and have their main homes somewhere else; or
  • the property is a care home, hospital, hostel or women’s refuge.

If only one person lives in a property they will be the liable person. If more than one person lives there, a system called the hierarchy of liability is used to work out who is the liable person. The person at the top, or nearest to the top, of the hierarchy is the liable person. Two people at the same point of the hierarchy will both be liable.

The hierarchy of liability is:

  • a resident owner-occupier who owns either the leasehold or freehold of all or part of the property
  • a resident tenant
  • a resident who lives in the property and who is a licensee. This means that they are not a tenant, but have permission to stay there
  • any resident living in the property, for example, a squatter
  • an owner of the property where no one is resident.

How much is the council tax

Each year, every local authority will set a rate of council tax for each valuation band. Not everyone will have to pay the full amount of council tax. There are three ways in which your council tax bill may be reduced.

These are:

  • the reduction scheme for disabled people
  • discounts
  • Council Tax Reduction and second adult rebate.

If there is someone (adult or child) living in a household who is substantially and permanently disabled the council tax bill for the property may be reduced. The reduction is made by charging council tax on a lower valuation band than the one the property is in. For example, if the property is in band D, the council tax bill will be worked out as if it were in band C. This reduction also applies to dwellings in band A. The reduction will be the same proportion of the council tax bill as the properties in the higher bands.

To claim a reduction you must show that a disabled person lives in the property, and also that the property has at least one of the following:

  • an extra kitchen or bathroom to meet the needs of a disabled person
  • any other room (except a toilet) which is mainly used by a disabled person to meet their needs
  • enough indoor space for a disabled person to use their wheelchair.

An application for this reduction must be made in writing to the local authority. Many local authorities will have a special application form. Some will ask for supporting evidence, for example, a doctor’s letter.


If only one adult lives in a property, they will get a 25 per cent discount on the council tax bill. When working out how many people live in a property, some people are not counted. These are called disregarded people.

You are disregarded if you are:

  • aged 17 or under
  • a prisoner or someone in detention awaiting deportation or under mental health legislation
  • ‘severely mentally impaired’
  • full-time students on a qualifying course of education (including correspondence or on-line courses); student nurses; Foreign Language Assistants on the official British Council programme. If the property is occupied only by students then it is exempt from council tax altogether
  • a spouse, civil partner or a dependant of a student who is a non- British Citizen and who, under immigration rules, is not allowed either to work in the UK or claim benefit
  • a young person on a government training scheme or following some kinds of apprenticeship
  • a long-term hospital patient or care home resident
  • living in a hostel which provides care or treatment because of your old age, physical or mental disability, past or present alcohol or drug dependence or past or present mental illness
  • living in a bail or probation hostel
  • a live-in care worker
  • staying in a hostel or night shelter
  • a school or college leaver aged under 20 and you have left school or college after 30 April. You will be disregarded until 1 November of the same year whether or not you take up employment
  • aged 18 and someone is entitled to Child Benefit for you
  • a member of a religious community
  • a member of a visiting armed force. Your dependants are also disregarded.

If everyone who lives in the property is disregarded, there will still be a council tax bill, but there will be a 50 per cent discount.

If you need any further advice about your council tax bill, just phone us on 0300 3309 074, Monday to Friday 10 am. To 2 pm.

Tom Togher

Citizens Advice Salford