Unoccupied 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.
Unoccupied and unfurnished properties
Until 01.04.13, 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 and from 01.04.13, these exemptions no longer exist. Instead, councils can decide how much discount to grant for empty properties in these circumstances. Leeds City Council has decided to allow no discount at all.
If you own an unoccupied and unfurnished property, you will therefore be liable for the full Council Tax for up to two years, then if it 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 01.04.2013 there is no exemption for properties in need of, or undergoing, repair or refurbishment. 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 giving more information about this - use the link on the right to view this factsheet.
Unoccupied but furnished properties
Until 01.04.13, 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 01.04.13, Leeds will award no discount for an unoccupied but furnished property, so the owner is liable for the full Council Tax from the date the property becomes unoccupied but remains furnished.
Please note: there is no right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal about the council’s decision not to allow a discount for empty properties in Leeds.