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Empty properties and the Council Tax

Empty properties – who is responsible for the Council Tax?

If there are no residents in a property, the owner is liable. ‘Owner’ in this context means a person who:

  • has a ‘material interest’ in the whole or any part of the dwelling; and
  • at least part of the dwelling or, as the case may be, of the part concerned is not subject to a material interest inferior to his interest

‘Material interest’ means a freehold interest or a leasehold interest which was granted for a term of six months or more – so sometimes, a tenant can be classed as ‘the owner’ if they have a tenancy agreement for six months or more. However, if a tenant's six-month tenancy has ended and their tenancy has become a 'rolling' periodic tenancy, they can't be held liable for any empty charges once they move out.  See the related page 'Rented properties and the Council Tax' for more information.

Unoccupied and unfurnished properties
Until 1 April 2013, exemptions applied to unoccupied and unfurnished properties for up to six months (exemption class C), or for up to 12 months for empty properties being refurbished (exemption class A).  However, Council Tax law has changed so from 1 April 2013, these exemptions no longer exist.  Instead, councils can decide how much discount to grant for empty properties in these circumstances. 

For 2013/14, Leeds City Council decided to allow no discount at all.

For 2014/15 – that is, with effect from 1 April 2014 - a discount of 100% can be granted for a property which is unoccupied and unfurnished for a period of 7 days or less, so no Council Tax is payable for them. However if the property is empty for over 7 days, no discount can be allowed, so full Council Tax is payable from the date the property first became unoccupied and unfurnished.

If you own an unoccupied and unfurnished property that is empty for over 7 days, you will therefore be liable for the full Council Tax. If the property remains empty for more than 2 years, the level of charge will increase - see the next paragraph.
 
Property empty for over 2 years
Once a property has been empty for over 2 years, a ‘long-term empty premium’ can be applied, if councils wish to apply it. Leeds City Council has decided to set a premium of 50%, so the rate of Council Tax payable is 150% for properties empty for over 2 years. 

This decision is in line with the Council's policy on long-term empty properties.  The strategy is designed to return to use property which has been empty for long periods and which can contribute to the decline of areas of the city.

It may be that the owner is trying their best to either sell the property or find new occupiers. However, now that the decision has been made to grant no discount, this will apply to all empty domestic properties in Leeds which would previously have qualified for exemption class C or exemption class A. 

Properties being refurbished
As mentioned above, from 1 April 2013 there is no exemption for properties in need of, or undergoing, repair or refurbishment. However if you wish to apply for an exemption for a period before 1 April 2013, there is a claim form in the documents section.

If you have a property which is in a poor state of repair, or undergoing substantial refurbishment work or structural alterations, the Council will have to charge you for it unless the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) deletes it from the Council Tax list.  However the VOA will only do this if it is derelict and uninhabitable, or if the work is substantial and the property is being rebuilt or structurally altered.  The VOA has produced a factsheet on this - go to External links for a link to their factsheet. 

Unoccupied but furnished properties
Until 1 April 2013, councils had to apply a minimum of 10% discount to these properties. However, Council Tax law has now changed so that councils are no longer obliged to grant any discount at all. From 1 April 2013, Leeds gives no discount for an unoccupied but furnished property, so the owner is liable for the full Council Tax from the date a furnished property becomes unoccupied (but see the explanation at the top of this page about who is classed as 'the owner'). A furnished property which is not being used as anyone's sole or main residence is regarded as 'unoccupied but furnished'.   

Please note: there is no right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal about the council’s decisions relating to empty properties in Leeds.

I have moved to a new house. My old house is empty and for sale. Must I pay Council Tax on both?

You might. Up to 31 March 2013, an empty property qualified for an exemption from Council Tax for up to 6 months from the date it became empty.  However from 01.04.13, the exemption no longer exists and the full Council Tax is payable for an empty property (unless a different exemption exists). If the property remains empty for over 2 years, an extra 'premium' of 50% is payable, so the amount of Council Tax goes up to 150%.

Why aren't empty properties exempt from Council Tax?

Council Tax law has changed and the old exemption for an empty property has been abolished from 1 April 2013. Councils can decide whether to give a discount for empty properties and Leeds City Council decided not to give any discount.

Why has the Council decided to give no discount for empty properties?

The decision was made to encourage the owners of empty properties to bring them back into use as quickly as possible. It also recognises the financial difficulties the council faces in the coming year.

Are there any circumstances in which you will waive the Council Tax on an empty property?

We cannot waive the charge.  However there are various exemptions still available so you should check whether any of those apply - see the page on 'Exemptions for unoccupied properties'.

Can I appeal against Leeds City Council's decision not to give a discount for empty properties?

​No - the council is allowed by law to decide whether or not to give a discount for empty properties and you cannot appeal to the Valuation Tribunal about that decision. 

Why must I pay full Council Tax for an empty property when a sole occupier gets a 25% discount?

The 25% 'Single person discount' only applies to a property occupied by just one person. From 01.04.131 April 2013, councils can decide whether empty properties should get a discount and Leeds has decided not to give any discount for empty properties.​

Why do I have to pay full Council Tax when I am not using any/all of the council's services?

The amount of Council Tax payable is not affected by how many services a householder receives; it is a contribution towards the cost of all the council’s services, including Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, education, highways, street lighting, waste disposal, parks, sports centres, libraries etc., and also towards the police, fire and rescue services and public transport.