Council Tax law is complex and detailed - these notes are only a brief summary of the key points and are not intended to be a full guide. For further information, please contact the Council Tax Section.
Sole or Main Place of Residence
For Council Tax purposes, you are considered to live at your "sole or main Residence".
As most people only have one residence there is no problem. Questions do arise, however, when people have the use of more than one residence or where people spend long periods away from home because of work or extended holidays. Even if you spend a long time away from your usual home because of work or holidays we will usually treat it as your main residence for Council Tax. We normally consider couples to have one main residence even if both own or rent different properties.
In such cases, we have to establish the facts as far as possible and make a decision. This may involve asking personal questions about your relationships and lifestyle and we are sorry if this offends you. Documentary evidence may also be asked for.
In the case of married and unmarried couples even if you each own or rent a property you will be treated as having one main residence for which you will pay the full Council Tax. If there are no other adults living in the other property an "unoccupied" charge will be payable for it.
Most cases are relatively straightforward and we are happy for you to decide what is your "main residence". It is, however, our responsibility to decide such questions if difficulties should arise, especially where exemptions or discounts may be concerned.
For obvious reasons we will investigate if a couple who have the use of a large property in Band H, claim to have their main residence in a small property in Band A.
Long Absence because of Work
You may have a main residence but also own or rent another property nearer to your place of work that you use during the week, returning at weekends to your main residence. For example, if you are a salesmen, a member of the armed services or a merchant seamen, etc., you may spend much of the year away from your "main residence".
The Courts have decided that in such situations the time spent away from your main residence is largely irrelevant and that your main residence is where you "intend to return" & "where you would live if not for the demands of your work". This is generally where your partner and children (if any) live.
Another case, however, involved a couple who owned a property that was their usual residence for nearly 20 years. They then moved into accommodation provided by the husband's employer for four and a half years. During this time they did not spend a night at the property they owned, even though it was only a few miles away and visited it only to clean and maintain it. The Court of Appeal held that the accommodation provided by the employer was their main residence during this period.
The details of that case are as follows.
R (ON THE APPLICATION OF WILLIAMS) v HORSHAM DISTRICT COUNCIL (HC) 2003
Mr. Williams, a schoolmaster, resided in college accommodation with his wife. He also owned another property nearby, Pump Cottage, but neither he nor his wife actually stayed there during the period of the four and a half years that was in dispute. The Billing Authority deemed that the property he owned was his main residence because he had security of tenure and there was an intention to reside there at some future date. The West Sussex Valuation Tribunal decided in favour of the Billing Authority. Mr. Williams subsequently successfully appealed to the High Court. The High Court held that the Tribunal had erred by placing too much emphasis on the fact that Mr. Williams had security of tenure at Pump Cottage and that he intended to reside there at some future date and had given insufficient regard to other factors. The Billing Authority ultimately appealed to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the High Court's decision.
The Court of Appeal held that a reasonable onlooker when looking at the facts would view the college accommodation as Mr. Williams's main residence. One important factor to note was that neither Mr. Williams nor his wife had spent any time at Pump Cottage, despite its close proximity to the college. In addition, when Mr. Williams's contract of employment ceased with the college, both he and his wife continued to reside there for almost a year, at their own expense.
A later case supported the above decision.
BENNETT v COPELAND BOROUGH COUNCIL (CA) 2004
The High Court had upheld the Valuation Tribunal’s decision that the appellant was resident in a property for Council Tax purposes even though he had never lived there. Other factors confirmed that it was his sole or main residence.
The appellant subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal where it was held that a person could not be deemed to be a resident in a property, if he had never lived there.
The Court of Appeal’s judgement in Bennett’s case reinforced its earlier judgement, in respect of Williams v Horsham District Council.
If you have a main residence and go on an extended holiday if you intend to return we will treat you as having your main residence at the property you leave.
A common situation is where an adult son or daughter leaves their parents address to travel for a year or so before going on to university. In such cases, unless there is evidence of their intention not to return at the end of their holiday, their main residence will be considered to be with their parents.
Whole families occasionally take extended breaks but if they keep a property available for their return it remains their main residence.
A High Court case established that a property could remain a person's main residence even if they remove the furniture while they are away.
The details of that case are as follows.
R (ON THE APPLICATION OF NAVABI) v CHESTER LE STREET DISTRICT COUNCIL HC 2001
The High Court found that a Valuation Tribunal had not erred in law in finding that Mr Navabi was liable for Council Tax in respect of a flat in which he held a long leasehold interest. The flat remained his sole or main residence during his five and a half months' absence in the United States of America because it was available for him on his return, even if it meant initially that before his residence would be comfortable he would have to put back the furniture that he had taken out.
If you disagree with the Councils decision to treat you as having your main residence at a particular address you must first appeal in writing to us, giving your reasons and supplying any evidence you have to support your claim. If we do not agree, you may then appeal to an independent body, the Valuation TribunalValuation Tribunal.
Even if you appeal the Council Tax must be paid as billed. If an appeal is later decided in your favour, then any overpayment will be returned.