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Posted 15 Feb 2024

Do You Pay Council Tax On An Empty Property?

council tax / empty property / landlord / second home

Whether you are a landlord or own a second home, do you pay council tax on an empty property? Learn all about council tax empty property rules in this guide.

When their property is vacant between tenants, landlords often ask me – do you pay council tax on an empty property? This also applies to those with second homes in the UK.

As you might expect, there’s a long answer and a short one! The short answer is that in most circumstances, yes you do pay council tax while your property is empty.

And under the recent Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023, some councils can now charge up to 100% more council tax on empty second homes. But not everyone pays council tax on an empty property – there are several exceptions, which I’ll explain in this guide.

Underused property in the UK is not a good outcome for anyone, whether it’s landlords looking for rental income or prospective tenants looking for somewhere to live. Even for those with a second home, there are advantages to letting it out when you’re not using it.

There’s a well-documented housing shortage in the UK, with reports suggesting a backlog of up to 4.3m extra homes required. But on top of that, there are over 675,000 empty homes, according to the government.

There are plenty of reasons for this, of course. However, as a general rule, it’s not in the government’s interest to let landlords save money on their council tax bill if their property is empty.

Before exploring the circumstances when you don’t pay tax on an empty property, it makes sense to briefly go back to basics. Here’s who has to pay council tax.

Council tax rules

In the UK, anyone 18 or over living in a property as their main home usually pays council tax – although specific rules determine who is responsible when several people live there.

Full council tax applies when two or more adults live together. Spouses, partners and civil partners share joint responsibility – there is a 25% discount if you live alone, or if others in the household are exempt.

There are exemptions for, among others:

  • Full-time students aged 18-24
  • Under-18s and some apprentices
  • Some live-in carers

The government also offers discounts for disabled people. Specific details and exemptions may vary by council so for accurate information, find your local council.

The amount of council tax due on a property depends on several factors. It varies by local authority and also according to the council tax bands – which are based on the property value of your home as of 1 April 1991 in England and 2003 in Wales!

Council tax goes toward payments for local services such as lighting, rubbish removal, street cleaning, libraries and other public services.

Council tax for landlords and second homeowners

If you’re a landlord, usually your tenant registers for and pays council tax. That’s also the case if you’re using the non-resident landlord scheme and renting out property while abroad.

Given the range of exemptions and discounts mentioned above, it makes sense – because two separate tenancies could require different amounts of council tax.

As an alternative, if the landlord continues to pay the council tax, typically they will charge the tenants as part of their monthly rental payment. However, the tenants should inform the landlord of any relevant exemptions or discounts the household could be entitled to.

If you own a second property in the UK, while you’re not living there and it’s empty, it’s your responsibility to pay any council tax owed.

So, do you pay council tax on an empty property?

If no-one lives in the property, the owner becomes responsible for council tax. As a landlord in the UK, if your property is empty, usually you step in and pay the council tax until you find a new tenant.

If you’re not letting out the property yet, check out my guide on how to rent out a house or flat.

As mentioned, if you own a second property and it’s empty for a certain period, you still need to pay the council tax.

That said, some councils offer exceptions to this rule. For example, under the Newham Council, if you need to live in another property for your job, you can claim a 50% discount.

Now, due to the aforementioned recent law changes, some councils plan to increase the tax due on empty and second homes.

For example, the mayor of Hackney has announced that from April 2025, double council tax will be charged on any home that’s empty in the borough for 12 months or more.

Council tax empty property exemptions

However, bear in mind that there are some scenarios where if you own an empty property, you are exempt from paying council tax.

So don’t pay more than you’re supposed to! Make sure you know how to avoid paying council tax on an empty property when you’re not meant to.

  • Uninhabitable properties: If you provide the council with evidence that the property is undergoing repairs due to damage or structural issues, it may be exempt from council tax
    • Major refurbishments: Similarly, the council may grant you a temporary exemption on council tax payments if the property is going through significant upgrade work
  • Probate or deceased estates: After the previous owner passes away, there is often a six-month exemption on council tax payments
  • Short-term empty properties: If the property is empty for under one month between tenancies, your council may grant you relief on the full council tax charge

Don’t be caught off guard by a tenant leaving your property earlier than expected – here is my guide about the break clause tenancy considerations you need to think about.

Of course, if you think you may be entitled to some form of empty property council tax discount, you should still continue to pay what you owe in the meantime. After sending off an application, the council will provide a refund if they agree with your case.

And in short, if there’s a good reason why the property is empty, apply to your council and you may not have to pay the tax. For example – if the tenant is away with the armed forces, or in long-term care at a hospital, the council may grant an exemption.

Final thoughts: When do you start paying council tax after buying a house?

When you’re buying a property, also bear in mind that from completion day onwards, you are liable for the council tax – not the date of exchange.

Here’s what can hold up the exchange of contracts and for more information on the entire process, take a look at my first time buyer checklist.

In general, the best way to make sure you don’t pay council tax on an empty property is to have someone registered as living there, settling the tax payments on your behalf.

If it’s your second home, consider using a property guardian on a short-term basis to look after it when you’re not there (and also pay the council tax).

If tenants are living there, but go travelling for a month, make sure they still pay the council tax for that period.

As an experienced estate agent in London, Fine Living specialises in matching people with their perfect (empty) properties!

If you have any questions or would like to ask about a property in our portfolio, we are here for you. Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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