Council Tax is a levy paid to your local authority based on the value of your property at a specific point in time. In Scotland, Council Tax bands in Scotland are based on the property’s estimated value as at 1 April 1991 with the date of estimation being April 1993.
The tax is paid either annually or monthly (traditionally if not paid annually this was paid in 10 instalments across 10 months of the year but many local authorities now permit this to be paid in 12 instalments across every month of the year).Your local authority uses Council Tax payments to assist with paying for certain services it provides, such as waste and recycling collection and processing, maintenance of adopted roads, pavements and footpaths, street-lighting, and local library services.
In Scotland the rate bands are as set out in the table below:
To find out which Council Tax band in Scotland your property is in, you can inspect a copy of the valuation list held by your local authority. This should be kept at the local authority’s main office and should be available for public inspection. Some local authorities also make this list available in other places including libraries. You can also inspect the council tax valuation list published online by the Scottish Assessors’ Association at www.saa.gov.uk.
You will need to pay Council Tax if you are over 18 years of age and own or rent a home. The annual sum payable (as shown in the above table) for each band is based on at least 2 adults sharing and most local authorities will provide for this amount to be discounted if only one adult lives in a property. Those on low incomes may be eligible for help through Council Tax Reduction and if you or someone you live with are severely mentally impaired you may be exempt from paying Council Tax altogether.
If your property is unoccupied, your local authority may be able to give you a discount for a limited time if you can prove you are in the process of renovating your property or it is for sale or rent. If your property has been unoccupied for more than 12 months, your local authority has the option to charge double the normal rate of Council Tax, this is called a surcharge.
Another group of people who are entitled to a discount on their Council Tax are students. If you are a student and live alone or share the rent with other students then you will be exempt from paying Council Tax. If you are a student but are sharing with someone who is not a student then you may be eligible for a reduction. If you live in halls of residence then you are exempt from paying Council Tax.
You may also be entitled to a discount on your Council Tax bill if you own a second home or a purpose-built holiday home however this will depend on your local authority’s policy; . they have discretion either to grant no discount for second homes, or to grant a discount between 10% and 50%.
You will be completely exempt from paying Council Tax if the property is empty because the person previously responsible for payment of Council Tax has died. In order to be exempt from paying Council Tax, the property needs to be unoccupied and unfurnished and this exemption only lasts for a maximum of 6 months. After the six months, the local authority is entitled to offer an empty homes discount of 10% to 50%. After being empty for over 1 year the property then may be liable for additional Council Tax surcharge.
You may also be exempt from paying Council Tax if your property is vacant because it needs major repairs or alterations to make it habitable. Such an exemption however only lasts for a maximum for 12 months.
If you have not paid your Council Tax on time, your local authority should issue you with a reminder asking for payment within 7 days. If you fail to pay this way then you lose your right to pay by instalments and a full year’s Council Tax becomes payable. If you still have not paid the Council Tax within 28 days of the due date then your local authority may apply to the Sheriff Court for a Summary Warrant to show you are liable to pay arrears. They must then offer you time to pay the debt. If you are unable to reach an agreement with the authorities to pay off the arrears then they may enforce the Summary Warrant by making deductions from your income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, Universal Credit or wages.
You can appeal a number of decisions that have been taken about your Council Tax liability. You can appeal decisions such as whether or not and if so to what extent a property is exempt or a discount applies. As this is determined by your local authority, you must write to your local authority with your complaint. The local authority then has two months to reply to you. If you wish to appeal against the decision then you must do so to the Valuations Appeal Committee (VAC), a body independent of the taxpayer, the tax collection authority (i.e. your local authority), and the Assessor, discussed in more detail below, who determines the banding for properties. If your local authority does not reply within two months you can also appeal directly to the VAC.
It is important to be aware that your property’s Council Tax band is not fixed. This can be re-assessed and ultimately changed if the Assessor considers that the existing band is incorrect. Most often this would follow from changes being made to the property, for example, if you extend or demolish part of your property, you split a single property into self-contained flats, there are significant changes to your local area, like a new road being built. In order not to discourage taxpayers from improving their homes, changes to a property’s banding (e.g. causing the band to be increased) will not take effect until a property is next sold.
If you think that your property may have been put into the wrong Council Tax bad for whatever reason, you can request a revaluation from the Valuation Office Agency. However, a request for revaluation could result in the property’s band being adjusted in the opposite direction; your property may end up being put into a higher Council Tax band.
Taxpayers should be aware that requesting a revaluation (known as making a proposal) can only be done within 6 months from the date you became responsible for payment of the property’s Council Tax. Whilst the Assessor may entertain requests to reconsider the banding of a property for Council Tax purposes submitted after this period has expired (as the Assessor has a statutory duty to maintain an accurate register), you must be aware that no formal appeal process is available to anyone who is unsuccessful when attempting to raise such a challenge.
Due to the speed with which the Council Tax regime was originally brought into force in the early 1990s (and the fleeting nature with which certain properties had values attributed to them in order to determine their bands), it is not unusual to hear of cases where an Assessor has been presented with suitable information, often years after the fact, which causes them to re-band a property with retrospective effect. In some cases where a property’s band has been reduced with such effect, local authorities have been known to issue refunds of what has essentially become overpaid Council Tax with both existing and former taxpayers receiving up to thousands of pounds back.
There are clearly a number of different circumstances which have an impact on the sum charged by a local authority in respect of Council Tax for a property. In certain circumstances the band itself can even be changed. It is accordingly very important to take note of your local authority’s policy regarding discounts and exemption. It must also be borne in mind, before you make a proposal to have your property’s Council Tax band reduced, that the Assessor has the ability to move bands up as well as down.
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