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How long can someone stay without paying council tax?

How long can someone stay without paying council tax?

Maxine McCreadie


As the cost of living continues to rise, many of us are looking for ways to cut back on spending and save money – especially when it comes to our household bills.

It’s now quite common to see adults moving back in with their parents and couples splitting their weeks between each other’s places.

However, many people don’t realise these new living arrangements could seriously impact their council tax bills.

Since council tax forms a large chunk of our yearly bills, it’s important to understand how these changes in our living conditions can affect it.

Council tax is paid to your local council to fund various services. The amount of council tax you pay depends on multiple factors, including the property’s value on the 1st of April 1991 and the current number of occupants. But generally speaking, the bigger the property, the higher the council tax bill.

Typically, understanding council tax is easy. However, things can get confusing when someone temporarily stays with you.

So, how long can someone stay without paying council tax? This article will address this question, explore council tax exemptions and discounts, and look at some other frequently asked questions.

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Understanding Council Tax

Council tax is an annual fee made to your local council that funds the various services and local amenities. These include:

  • Rubbish collection and disposal
  • Road maintenance
  • Street cleaning
  • Street lighting
  • Police and fire services
  • Social care
  • Libraries and education services
  • Trading standards

Council tax is a mandatory UK tax payment levied on all residential properties, paid in either ten or twelve monthly instalments or in one yearly amount.

UK properties are grouped into eight council tax bands, based on their values on the 1st of April 1991 for England and Scotland and the 1st of April 2003 for Wales.

The council tax band determines 50% of the amount of council tax you’ll have to pay on your home, with the other 50% depending on how many people are living there.

A full council tax bill is based on at least two adults living in a home and will not increase if more adults move in.

Most people over the age of 18 and living in rented or privately owned accommodation will have to pay council tax, although there are exemptions and discounts depending on certain circumstances.

Exemptions and Discounts

Individuals may qualify for a council tax reduction if:

  • They live alone, or they live with someone aged under 18 or a student.

If you live alone or you’re the only adult on your property, you’re entitled to a single-person discount.

This is a 25% discount on your yearly council tax bill, which could potentially save you hundreds of pounds.

  • They’re a live-in carer, or they have a live-in carer

If you are a live-in carer working at least 35 hours a week, you may be able to claim a discount on council tax.

This is available to live-in carers who care for a person receiving certain disability benefits.

This discount will not apply if the person receiving care is the spouse or partner of the carer or the carer’s child aged under 18.

  • They live with a disabled person.

Your council tax bill may also be reduced if you live in a property that has been adapted to safely meet the needs of a disabled person.

You will be charged council tax at a lower band, which will reduce the bill. If your property falls under band A, you’ll still get a 17% discount on your council tax bills.

  • The household consists entirely of full-time students.

If everyone living in the property is in full-time education, you will be exempt from paying any council tax.

This exemption only applies if all members of the house are students – if all but one of the adults living at the property are students, a 25% discount will be given.

  • The housing is armed forces accommodation.

Armed forces accommodations are exempt from any council tax.

  • They’re on a low income or income support.

If you have less than £16,000 in savings, are on a low income or claiming certain benefits, like Universal Credit or Job Seekers Allowance, you might be eligible for council tax support.

Council tax support is a discount that reduces the amount of council tax you’ll have to pay, dependent on your circumstances, income and other factors.

The Second Adult Rebate

If you are ineligible for a single-person discount because you are sharing your house with an adult or adults, you may qualify for a second adult rebate.

This is another form of council tax reduction, which could reduce your council tax by up to 25%.

If you’re the only person responsible for paying your council tax, you may be eligible for this rebate.

When you make a claim for a second adult rebate, your income and capital are not taken into account – it’s dependent on the income of the adults living with you.

The lower their income, the greater the reduction will be on your council tax bill.

Second adults are people that:

  • Are over the age of 18
  • Aren’t liable to pay rent
  • Aren’t your spouse or partner
  • Have no responsibility to pay council tax
  • Don’t have a contract with your landlord
  • Are on a low income or certain benefits
  • Are not disregarded for council tax purposes (like students or live-in carers)

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How long can someone stay at a property without paying council tax?

If two (or more) adults live in your property, your council tax bill won’t change, regardless of who moves in.

However, the situation might change if you receive a council tax discount or reduction.

Every case is unique, and therefore, it’s hard to definitively answer the question, but it’s worth understanding what could happen to your council tax bill if you invite another adult to live with you.

Typically, if someone is staying with you temporarily but paying council tax on their own rented or owned property, they will not be liable for council tax on your home for the duration of their stay.

Likewise, if they’re staying with you on a short-term basis (2-3 nights), you won’t need to pay extra council tax.

Both of these situations are unlikely to affect your single-person discount.

However, if you’re claiming a single-person reduced rate on your council tax and someone classed as an adult moves in with you, your situation could change.

If they aren’t paying council tax on another property and they’re staying with you long-term or permanently, it’s highly likely that you would no longer be eligible for the reduced rate.

If you invite someone to live with you, even temporarily, you should immediately contact your local authority to explain the situation.

They will be able to advise you as to how your council tax bill may change. Failure to inform local authorities can result in a backdated council tax debt and a potential fine of up to £1000!

We know this a complex and confusing subject, so here are some examples to help you understand:

My partner stays over frequently. Should he be paying council tax?

If your partner is staying a few nights a week frequently, but he makes council tax payments on another property, he won’t have to pay council tax to stay at yours, and it won’t affect your single-person discount.

However, if your partner is staying frequently, isn’t paying council tax at another property, and you’re living as a couple with a joint bank account, you split the rent and bills, and you have kids, then he may have to pay council tax at yours. This could also affect your 25% discount.

My son has just turned 18, but he’s still in school. Will I lose my single-person discount?

As long as your son remains in full-time education, he won’t be required to pay council tax.

Full-time college and university students are disregarded as adults when it comes to council tax, so you won’t lose your single-person discount.

If, however, he leaves education and remains living at home, you will lose the discount. To qualify as a full-time student for council tax purposes, your child must meet the following criteria:

  • Their course should last at least one year
  • The course must involve at least 21 hours of study per week

For students under 20 studying for qualifications up to A level, the requirements slightly differ:

  • Their course should have a minimum duration of three months.
  • They need to be engaged in at least 12 hours of study per week.

I want to take in a lodger; what will happen to my council tax bill?

Taking in a lodger can affect your council tax bill, any council tax discount you’re receiving, and you may lose your single person’s discount.

If your lodger is a full-time student or claiming certain benefits, you may still be entitled to the single person’s discount.

If your lodger is paying council tax on another home (so-called Monday to Friday lodgers), you most likely will keep your single-person discount.

I have two homes. Can I apply for a Single Person Discount on both?

You can only claim a single-person discount on one property. You will be asked where your main residence is, and if you’re the only adult in the property, you can claim the 25% discount.

However, you may be able to claim some amount of discount on your second home from the local council. It’s decided on a case-by-case basis, so contacting them might be worth your time.

If my partner serves in the military or works away from home and only visits occasionally, am I eligible for a Single Person Discount?

No, you will not be able to claim a single-person discount as your home will still be treated as your partner’s main residence when they’re in the UK.

Do I have to pay Council Tax if I live with someone who is exempt?

Living with someone who is exempt from paying council tax does not mean you’re exempt. You may be entitled to a discount, but that will depend on whether you’re the only adult liable for council tax within the property or if other people live with you.

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What happens if I don’t pay my council tax?

If you have fallen behind on, or have not been paying, your council tax, you will rack up considerable council tax debt. Unpaid council tax arrears can have serious consequences.

If you’re unable to pay your council tax, the first step from your local authority will be sending a reminder to pay – usually two weeks after the missed payment.

Typically, you will have to pay the arrears within seven days.

If you do not pay your outstanding balance within this timeframe, you’ll receive a follow-up letter, potentially asking for you to settle your property council tax for the entire year. 

This can be an incredible financial burden – hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds.

We recommend immediately contacting a debt recovery company or debt charity if you cannot afford your council tax payments.

They’ll be able to offer you advice and can help set up a payment plan with your local authority.

Failure to Settle Arrears

If you fail to settle your arrears after receiving final notice from your local council, they can begin court action.

They may ask a magistrates court to issue a liability order, which makes you legally liable to pay your arrears but, more importantly, gives the council permission to forcibly collect the debt.

They may send out enforcement agents, have bailiffs force entry to your residence to seize your belongings, force your employer to make arrears repayments directly from your wage, or take it directly from any benefits you receive.

In some extreme cases, they may ask a magistrates court for a charging order on your home or even attempt to declare you bankrupt. However, these are very rare occurrences.

It’s important to note that most local authorities will try to recover your unpaid council tax bill through less serious means before taking legal action. They will usually work with you to create a repayment plan you can afford.

Can you go to prison for not paying council tax?

In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, you can’t be sent to prison for avoiding your council tax responsibilities. However, you can in England.

If enforcement agents are unable to recoup enough money from seizing your belongings, the council can apply to have you sent to prison for up to a maximum of three months.

Courts will look at why you haven’t paid council tax and ask questions about your income, outgoings, debts, and assets.

You can be sentenced to prison if they determine you wilfully refused to clear your arrears.

However, being unable to pay is not enough to sentence you – in these cases, courts will order you to pay a certain amount back to the council each month.

This is typically a last resort for the council as court proceedings are time-consuming.

What can I do if I think my council tax bill is too high?

If your personal circumstances change – someone moves out, or there is a change in your benefits – you may be paying too much council tax.

Let your local council know if your circumstances change.

If you think your council tax valuation band is wrong, you should contact the body in charge of deciding where your property falls – the Valuation Office Agency.

You are able to challenge their valuation, provided you can evidence your claims.

If there is enough evidence to support your claim, the Valuation Office Agency will review your property. This can sometimes result in your property being moved to a more expensive band, so research your claim thoroughly to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

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How long can someone stay without paying council tax: An overview

Council tax is an important consideration for property owners and renters alike. It’s vital you know how it works, especially as your circumstances, or those of the people living with you, can affect your exemptions or discount eligibility.

Short-term guests generally won’t affect your council tax, but long-term guests could cause you to have to pay more.

There are a number of discounts available for people paying council tax; staying informed will let you maximise your opportunity to potentially reduce your tax burden, ensuring you’re only paying what’s necessary.

If you’re struggling to manage your council tax debt, don’t ignore any warnings or let letters pile up. You should contact your council or a local debt charity in order to set up a payment plan and get the help you need.

Maxine McCreadie
Maxine McCreadie

Maxine is an experienced writer, specialising in personal insolvency. With a wealth of experience in the finance industry, she has written extensively on the subject of Individual Voluntary Arrangements, Protected Trust Deed's, and various other debt solutions.

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