Liability and exemptions

These pages explain who is liable for council tax and which properties are exempt.

This content applies to Scotland

Liability

The owner is always liable where the dwelling is one of the following:[1]

  • Care homes or certain hostels

  • Houses of religious communities

  • Houses in multiple occupation (HMO) - the definition of an HMO for council tax is slightly different to that used for licensing purposes

  • Second homes with domestic servants

  • Residencies of ministers of religion

  • School boarding accommodation

  • Accommodation provided to asylum seekers under s.95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

There is then what is known as a ‘hierarchy of liability’. The first person in this list is consider to be liable to pay the council tax:

  • a resident owner of all or part of the property

  • a resident tenant of all or part of the property

  • a resident sub-tenant of all or part of the property

  • a resident with no security of tenure

  • a non-resident owner of any part of the property unless there is a non-resident tenant or sub-tenant who has a lease (or sub-lease) of six months or more

If no one in the list above is resident then the non-resident owner is liable.

If two or more people fall into the liable category they may be jointly and severally liable (except if one is severely mentally impaired or a student)

Additionally, the liable person’s partner or spouse is jointly and severally liable if they are resident in the dwelling.

Where a non-resident landlord writes a term into a tenancy agreement that an HMO tenant is liable for council tax, the Upper Tribunal has ruled that this would be an unlawful premium under Section 82-90 of the Rent Scotland Act. [2]

The local authority has a variety of powers to identify who has liability. A person who believes they have been wrongly identified as liable can appeal against this and there is no time limit for making an appeal.[3]

Exempt properties

The following unoccupied properties are exempt for up to six months (and longer in some cases):[4]

  • Unoccupied new dwellings

  • Dwellings under repair

  • Dwellings last occupied by charitable bodies

  • Empty dwellings

  • Dwellings last occupied by persons living or detained elsewhere

  • Deceased owners

  • Dwellings empty under statute

  • Dwellings awaiting demolition

  • Unoccupied dwellings for students

  • Unoccupied dwellings for occupation by ministers of religion

  • Repossessed dwellings

  • Agricultural dwellings

  • Difficult to let separately (e.g. granny flats)

The following occupied dwellings are exempt indefinitely:[5]

  • Only occupied by one or more students, school or college leavers or under 18 year olds

  • Occupied by a student or a student’s spouse

  • Only occupied by one or more 'care leavers'

  • Housing association ‘trial property’ for older people or people with disabilities

  • Student halls of residence

  • Armed forces accommodation

  • Visiting forces accommodation

  • Garages, carports and storage sheds

  • Is occupied by ‘severely mentally impaired person’

  • Is ‘prescribed housing support accommodation’

  • a property solely occupied by persons who left Ukraine in connection with the Russian invasion which took place on 24 February 2022, and who have either been granted leave to enter or remain in the UK or have a right of abode in the UK - this exemption only applies where it is their sole or main residence [6]

Students

In general, students are defined as those enrolled on 'full time, qualifying course'. This is defined in more detail within in the legislation. [7] In calculating whether someone is a full time student it was held that 'formally documented' additional hours, in order to mitigate disadvantage as a result of a disability, could be included in calculating whether the course was for an average of at least 21 hours per week during term time.[8]

Last updated: 21 July 2022

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.76(1) Local Government Finance Act 1992 and schedule 1 The Council Tax (Liability of Owners) (Scotland) Regulations 1992 SSI 1992/1331. See the CPAG Council tax handbook for more details of relevant case law in relation to council tax.

  • [2]

    Floyd vs Gettka, UTS/AP/21/0003

  • [3]

    s.81 Local Government Finance Act 1992

  • [4]

    sch.1 Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997 SI 1997/728

  • [5]

    sch.1 Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997 SI 1997/728

  • [6]

    Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2022

  • [7]

    art.6(4)(c)(ii) Council Tax (Discounts)(Scotland) Consolidation and Amendment Order 2003 SSI 2003/176

  • [8]

    Jagoo v Bristol City Council [2019] EWCA Civ.