Council tax discounts

Council tax discounts

Many are due legitimate discounts which can help save £1,000s

Many people are eligible for discounts or reductions of between 25% to 100% off their council tax bill, saving £100s – or even £1,000s – each year. For example, those living alone or only with kids, people on a low income, those with a carer, and even empty properties could get a reduced bill. This guide shows who's eligible, how much you might save, and how to apply.

With thanks to Gary Watson, deputy chief executive at the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation, for his contribution to this guide.

Other MSE council tax guides... 

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Why your household might be paying too much council tax

Council tax is charged on properties in England, Wales and Scotland (there's a completely different system in Northern Ireland called domestic rates), so that local authorities can help run and support vital services in the community.

However, not all households should be paying the full amount of council tax for their property, while others should be paying nothing whatsoever. It's possible to get anywhere between 25% and 100% (so you'd pay nothing at all) off your total bill. 

You could be due a discount if you or someone in your household is disregarded for council tax purposes (see the Gov.uk website for a full list of those who are disregarded). Still others are due council tax support (known as a reduction) because of their personal circumstances. Do note that discounts and reductions are technically different – though you can claim both simultaneously if you qualify.

However it's up to YOU to flag to your local council whether you might be eligible for a discount or reduction. Check whether any of the circumstances below apply, then click the links for more info:

1. Council tax discounts you could get based on your circumstances

2. Council tax discounts you could get based on your household

3. Council tax discounts you could get based on your property

Is your home one of 100,000s in too high a council tax band? Even if you're not eligible for a council tax discount, many households in England and Scotland were placed in too high a band, meaning they're paying too much council tax. Read our Check & challenge your council tax band guide to see if you're affected.

Council tax support for those impacted by coronavirus

Many councils have also been offering extra support for residents who are struggling financially because of the pandemic, though each council says support offered varies on a case-by-case basis, so do check what's available.

Contact your council if you're struggling to see whether it can help. 

Are you eligible for a council tax discount or reduction?

While the full council tax rate is the default setting, you may be eligible for a discount or reduction due to your individual circumstances, meaning you'll pay less each month.

The discounts and reductions listed below are sometimes backdate-able too, meaning you could be due a lump sum worth £1,000s. However, councils set their own rules regarding backdating – if they do allow it, you'll normally need to explain why you hadn't claimed before. 

Remember that if you think you're eligible, YOU MUST APPLY – visit Gov.uk to find your council's details.

If your circumstances later change, do inform your local authority as it may mean you're no longer eligible for a reduced bill.

1. People who live alone (or with under-18s) – 25% discount

Who can claim? You can claim the single person discount if you're an adult and live alone, or if you're the only adult in your household (for example, living with under-18s), or if you only live with other adults who are disregarded from council tax (for example, a non-student who lives with full-time students). 

How big is the discount? The single person's discount is worth 25% off the full bill. So a £1,000 a year bill would become £750. Where you're a full-time student or have a severe mental impairment, the discount could be 100% – meaning you don't pay council tax at all.

Some MoneySavers have told us they've been able to get the 25% single person discount in addition to reductions awarded on the basis of being on a low household income.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax discount' tool to find your local council's details.

My elderly father has mostly been in hospitals and care homes recently.  
My mother informed the local council and was advised that their council tax would be reduced by 25% during his time away, due to the single person discount.
Thank you for what you do.

Chris, via email

Hosting a Ukrainian refugee in your main home does not impact your entitlement to the single person discount if you otherwise fulfil the eligibility criteria. The Government laid down legislation to this effect in April.

illustration

2. People with a 'severe mental impairment' – up to 100% discount

Who can claim? If you, or a friend/family member, has a 'severe mental impairment' (a horrid term, from here on we'll call it an SMI), for example, somebody who has Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, severe learning difficulties, or who has had a stroke – you, or they, could be eligible for a council tax discount. That's because those with an SMI are disregarded from council tax.

To qualify, you/they will need to be both medically certified as having an SMI, and be receiving at least one of a number of benefits (in Scotland, being eligible for the benefit even if you don't actually claim it, is sometimes enough).

The SMI situation is complex and some council staff may not have heard of it, so we have a special How to claim the 'SMI' council tax discount guide to take you through it step-by-step.

How big is the discount? That depends on who you/they live with. If you/they are certified as SMI, are in receipt of a qualifying benefit and...

  • Live alone (or only with under-18s/ students/ others with an SMI). Then the discount is 100%, as all-SMI households, all-student households and under-18s are exempt from paying council tax.
  • Live with one other adult (who isn't disregarded from council tax). Then the discount is 25% off the total bill.
  • Live with one or more other adults (all of whom are disregarded from council tax). Then the discount is 50% off the total bill.
  • Live with two or more other adults (none of whom are disregarded from council tax). Then there is no discount and the household pays the full amount of council tax.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax discount' tool to find your local council's details. But it's best to read our full How to claim the 'SMI' council tax discount guide too before applying. 

3. People with an unpaid, live-in carer – up to 50% discount

Who can claim? Those with a live-in carer might be able to get a discount, as live-in carers are disregarded from council tax. The carer needs to look after someone with a disability who isn't their partner, spouse or child under 18, for an average of at least 35 hours a week – looking after a mother, father, brother, sister, niece, nephew, friend, uncle or aunt DOES count.

The carer must live with the person with the disability, and the person cared for must be getting one of the following benefits:

  • Attendance allowance
  • Middle or higher rate of the care component of disability living allowance.
  • Standard or enhanced rate of the daily living component of personal independence payment.
  • An increase in constant attendance allowance.
  • An increase in disablement pension.

Please note that the carer does NOT need to be receiving carer's allowance to qualify for this council tax discount.

You do not qualify as a live-in carer if you're under 18. However, under-18s are disregarded for the purposes of council tax, which might mean the household shouldn't be paying the full council tax bill anyway (see the 'single person' discount).

How big is the discount? If the live-in carer just lives with the person they care for, a 25% council tax reduction can be applied to the household. If the live-in carer cares for someone with an SMI, then the council tax reduction is 50%.

If the live-in carer cares for someone who doesn't have an SMI, and one or more other adults –  none of whom are disregarded for council tax – also live in the same property, then the full council tax bill is due.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax discount' tool to find your local council's details.

I made an application for a discount for my dad's council tax due to his dementia, and received four years of refunds. And last week the council emailed me because, as his live-in carer, we are eligible for a further 25% discount, and they have backdated the refund to 2017.

John, via email

After losing our mum, my disabled sister moved in with me and I became her carer. Your guidance stated that if caring for someone who receives the enhanced rate of personal independence payment, I'd be entitled to a live-in carer discount. After submitting the relevant evidence, I was pleased to hear we were indeed entitled to a 25% discount. Not only that, but the council backdated it by five years to the time my sister moved in. This credit will pay for a year's council tax, plus another £900+ back into my bank account.

Cindy, via email

4. People with a paid, live-in care worker – up to 50% discount

Who can claim? Those with a paid, live-in care worker might be able to get a discount – though the eligibility criteria is tight – as such care workers are disregarded from council tax. The care worker normally needs to live at the same premises as the person they care for, and be employed to care or support that person. The care worker must work for at least 24 hours a week, but can't earn more than £44 a week.

How big is the discount? If the care worker just lives with the person they care for, a 25% council tax reduction can be applied to the household. If the care worker cares for someone with an SMI, then the council tax reduction is 50%.

If the care worker cares for someone who doesn't have an SMI, and one or more other adults – none of whom are disregarded for council tax – also live in the same property, then the full council tax bill is due.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax discount' tool to find your local council's details.

5. People receiving pension credit – up to 100% reduction

Who can claim? If you or your partner are getting the 'guaranteed' part of pension credit, your household could be eligible for a full reduction on your council tax bill (this is part of the council tax support scheme, rather than a discount). If you get the 'savings' part of pension credit, then you might also be eligible for a reduction on your council tax, though this won't be a full reduction and how much you'll get will depend on how much you have in savings.

How big is the reduction? Depending on your circumstances, you get up to 100% off your council tax bill. If you live with any adults who aren't dependent on you, then the reduction might be less.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this reduction. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax reduction' tool to find your local council's details.

Some time ago you mentioned about claiming for pension credit. I own my home, no mortgage, I have savings and Premium Bonds. I really didn't think I would get anything. I did, backdated, and also will not have to pay council tax. Many thanks, Martin x

Susan, via email

Households that are eligible for a discount or reduction

Council tax discounts and reductions can also be available due to a household's status, for example because it's a 'student household'.

Again, these discounts and reductions are sometimes backdateable, meaning you could be due a lump sum on top of paying less going forward. However, councils set their own rules regarding backdating – if they do allow it, you'll normally need to explain why you hadn't claimed before.

Like any council tax discount or reduction, if you think you're eligible, YOU MUST APPLY – visit Gov.uk to find your council's details.

If your circumstances later change, do inform your local authority as it can change whether you're eligible for a reduced bill.

1. Households containing students – up to 100% discount

Who can claim? If a household has only full-time students in it (including one student living alone) then there is no council tax to pay, as all-student households are exempt from paying council tax. This applies even if there are eight of you as students.

To count as a full-time student, your course must last at least a year and involve at least 21 study hours a week.

Full-time student nurses can normally claim this discount too. Some councils also let part-time student nurses apply as well. 

How big is the discount? A household with only full-time students, or students living only with under-18s, or students living only with someone with an SMI, does not pay any council tax (such households are exempt from council tax).

If full-time students live with one non-student adult (who isn't disregarded from council tax), then the household will get a 25% reduction. If there are two or more non-student adults (who aren't disregarded from council tax) living with full-time students, then the full council tax bill is due.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax discount' tool to find your local council's details.

Having watched one of your TV programmes, I claimed for my three years of study. I wasn't expecting success, but the council cleared my remaining tax account for the year and reimbursed me £2,600+.

Patricia, via email

2. Households on a low income / benefits – up to 100% reduction

Who can claim? If you're on a low income or claim benefits, such as universal credit, your household may qualify for a council tax reduction (this is part of the council tax support scheme, rather than a discount). It doesn't matter if you own your own home or rent, or whether you're employed or not. Yet what you get depends on:

- Where you live (each council runs its own scheme)
- Your circumstances (such as income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
- Your income, including savings, pensions and your partner's income
- If children live with you
- If other adults live with you

When working out your income, councils in England can partly or fully disregard things like child maintenance, fostering payments and charity contributions – see your council's website for its full list. Most recently, disregarded income should also include any payments you get in relation to Windrush (such as the Windrush Compensation Scheme) and historic child sexual abuse.

How big is the reduction? Depending on your circumstances, your household could get up to a 100% reduction. 

Some MoneySavers have told us they've been able to get the 25% single person discount in addition to reductions / support awarded on the basis of being on a low household income (though you couldn't combine if your bill has already been wiped by 100%).

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this reduction. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax reduction' tool to find your local council's details.

I used your Benefits Calculator to see if I was eligible for pension credit. It told me I wasn't, but indicated I was paying too much council tax. This prompted me to apply to my council for a reduction. The result: they reduced it from £1,332/yr to £641. WOW! Thank you.

Steven, via email

My husband is a blind military veteran and suffers from complex medical needs. I gave up my job to care for him, so we don't have much income, except my husband's national and military pensions, his personal independence payments and my carer's allowance. I read with interest your suggestion we might be able to get a council tax reduction. I filled in a form and heard nothing for weeks. Then out of the blue it was granted. Not only has our council tax been wiped from £1,600 to £0 for 2022/23, but we also received a £500 backdated refund – plus a £150 hardship payment.

Diana, via email

Thanks to advice on your page, I claimed a council tax reduction
and have been granted £388.19 off this year's bill. Not a fortune
but still a great help. I then had a single person's discount too of £517.86.

Gillian, via email

Properties that are eligible for a discount or reduction

Some people can get a discount or reduction off their council tax bill because of the property itself.

Again, these discounts and reductions are sometimes backdate-able, though the rules vary by council. Like any council tax discount, if you think you're eligible, YOU MUST APPLY – visit Gov.uk to find your council's details.

If your circumstances later change, do inform your local authority as it can change whether you're eligible for a reduced bill.

1. Properties that have been renovated for somebody with a disability – drop a council tax band

Who can claim? Discounts may be available if your home has been adapted for a person with a disability. This could include:

  • An extra bathroom or kitchen for the person who is disabled to use.

  • A room which is 'predominantly' used by the disabled person. For example, it could be a downstairs room in a two-storey house which the disabled person has to use as a bedroom. Or it could be a room that has been adapted specifically for the disabled person to use.

  • Sufficient floor space so the disabled person can use a wheelchair in the home.

How big is the discount? If you can prove this renovation was made to cater for somebody with a disability, your council tax band will be dropped. How much you save each year will therefore depend on the area you live in. 

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this reduction. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax reduction' tool to find your local council's details.

After you mentioned disability rates relief I emailed my local council, and they sent me a form to complete. Three weeks later I was informed that my band had been reduced from E to a D, saving me over £400/yr going forward. Not only that, the discount was backdated to the time I came out of rehab following an above-the-knee leg amputation, meaning an extra pay-out of £1,500. Thank you so very much, I wouldn't have known about this reduction otherwise.

John, via email

2. Properties being renovated to make them liveable – possible 100% exemption

Who can claim? For unoccupied properties which are undergoing MAJOR repair work or structural alterations to make them habitable, you may be able to claim a council tax exemption.

How big is the discount? If your property fits the category above, you will be exempt from council tax for up to 12 months.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax discount' tool to find your local council's details.

3. Properties that are empty – possible 100% discount (but it depends on the reason)

Who can claim? There are some instances where you don't have to pay any council tax on an empty home. These include:

You're a long-term resident of a care home or hospital. Here you don't need to pay any council tax on your home, unless you're only in hospital or a home for a short time – recovering from an accident, for example – in which case you'll need to pay council tax as normal.

You're in prison. If the property's now empty, you do not need to pay council tax on it (unless you're in prison for not paying council tax).

The owner of the property has died. If the home's empty, it's exempt from council tax until someone new moves in, or probate is granted. If probate has been granted and the home is still empty and hasn't been sold, it will be exempt from council tax for a further six months. If it's still empty and unsold after six months, the executor will be responsible for paying council tax from the estate.

If you've inherited a house from someone who's died, you're responsible for paying council tax once the transfer has been completed.

How big is the discount? It could be up to 100% off your bill depending on your circumstances.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax discount' tool to find your local council's details.

Quick questions

  • How much council tax do I pay on an empty property that isn't exempt?

    If your empty home isn't exempt, you will have to pay council tax. In fact, if your home's empty (and unfurnished) for two or more years, your council can charge an extra 100% in council tax if your home's in England or Wales.

    If it's in Scotland, this premium can be charged after a year, and it can be up to an extra 100% (so effectively your council tax could be doubled). This is to avoid having lots of empty properties up and down the country.

  • What if I'm in the armed forces and stationed away from home?

    If you're in the armed forces and stationed away, you won't be charged extra council tax, but will need to pay the normal amount.

4. Properties with a granny annexe – 50% discount (on the annexe's bill only)

Who can claim? If your home has a 'granny flat' or similar extension, you might get a discount provided it's in use as a residence or used by the main homeowner.

How big is the discount? If you've got an granny annexe, you will receive two council tax bills – one for the annexe and a separate one for the rest of your home. You're entitled to a discount of 50% on the annexe's council tax bill, but you'll still pay council tax as normal on the main house.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax discount' tool to find your local council's details.

5. Properties that are second homes but not usually lived in – up to 50% discount

Who can claim? If you have to live in a second property for your job, for example, you live there during the week, or own a holiday home, some councils will give you a reduction. This does not include buy-to-let properties.

How big is the discount? Councils can give a discount of up to 50%, but it's up to the council to decide both if it'll offer the discount in the first place and how much it will be.

How do I apply? You must contact your council to apply for this discount. Put your postcode into the Government's 'Apply for a council tax reduction' tool to find your local council's details.

Hosting a Ukrainian refugee in a second home does not impact your entitlement to this discount if you otherwise fulfil the eligibility criteria. The Government laid down legislation to this effect in April.

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Who is actually responsible for paying the council tax bill?

This section on liability is only for those living in England. We're chasing information on council tax liability in Scotland and Wales and will update when we have it.

Working out who, technically, is legally responsible for paying a household's council tax bill is more complicated than you might think – as we discovered when trying to answer this question.

For many households this likely won't be an issue as – regardless of the legal technicalities – you simply split the bill evenly between the adult occupants (or some variation on this). The intention of this chapter isn't to mess with that practical arrangement.

Rather, in the event there's a disagreement about who should be paying (or maybe you're just curious to know), there is a method to determine who should be footing the bill...

Familiarise yourself with the council tax 'hierarchy of liability'

Buried deep within the Local Government Finance Act 1992 is a section on council tax liability, which sets out who in a household is legally responsible for paying.

Known as the 'hierarchy of liability', this section specifies six kinds of person, each occupying a certain rung on the hierarchy. Where someone fits the criteria specified by the first rung, they will normally be responsible for paying the council tax bill.

If nobody is classified as fitting the first rung of liability, then responsibility passes to anybody on the second rung. Where nobody sits on the second rung, responsibility moves to anybody on the third rung, and so on. 

The hierarchy of liability goes as follows:

1. Resident with a freehold interest
2. Resident with a leasehold interest
3. Resident with a statutory or secured tenancy
4. Resident with a contractual licence to live in the property
5. Resident
6. Owner of the property 

For the purposes of council tax, a 'resident' is defined as somebody who is at least 18 years of age, and has his or her 'sole or main residence' in the relevant property.

Where two or more people occupy the same rung – for example, a household that consists of a couple who are both named on the tenancy agreement – responsibility for paying the bill is divided equally between them. This is known as being 'jointly and severally liable'.

Joint and several liability also applies to married and civil partner couples (and couples living together as if they were married or civil partnered) where one of the people is on a higher rung of the hierarchy than their partner.

There are some exceptions to the hierarchy

To add further complication to working out who's responsible for paying the council tax bill, there are some exceptions to the hierarchy of liability to consider. In brief:
 
  • Some households are exempt from paying council tax in the first place (meaning the hierarchy of liability is not applicable). This includes households which contain only full-time students or only people with SMIs – or a combination of both.
There's also an exception to the joint and several liability rule. In brief:
 
  • Joint liability doesn't apply to full-time students and people with SMIs. This means where a household is mixed, and includes at least one person who is a full-time student or somebody with an SMI, as well as another adult (or adults) who are on the same rung of liability, joint liability won't apply as per normal. In such a scenario, the student / person with an SMI would not be legally responsible for paying council tax, and the bill's liability would be jointly split between the remaining occupant or occupants.

Examples of council tax hierarchy in practice

As you might've gathered, working out who's legally liable to pay council tax can be complicated. To help, we've come up with nine different scenarios, split between three groups.

Simply click on the dropdowns that are relevant to you:

  • Households containing students

  • Households where someone is cared for

  • Households on low incomes

You can pay bills over 12 months, not 10 (in England)

Many people have complained to us that council tax is paid over 10 months rather than 12, making monthly budgeting difficult (as you pay monthly for 10 months, then get a two-month holiday). Yet all councils in England must allow you to pay your council tax over 12 months.

However, we've heard there are worries that as it may impact their cash flow, some councils may not be very loud in telling people about this option. If you want to change how you pay, it's safest to contact it yourself.

How do I do this? If you live in England, contact your council and tell it you want to change to the new payment schedule. Make sure to check your new bill when it arrives to see that the schedule has definitely changed.

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