Council tax liability after a tenant moves out

Who is liable for council tax and when a tenant remains liable after they move out.

This content applies to England

Who is liable for council tax

Council tax is usually payable by the resident of the property. A resident is a person:[1]

  • aged 18 or over

  • solely or mainly living in the property

Someone is always liable for council tax unless the property is exempt.

Council tax hierarchy of liability

If more than one person lives in a property, the hierarchy of liability sets out who is liable to pay council tax. Terms in a tenancy agreement do not override the hierarchy of liability.

The hierarchy list is read from the top and the first applicable definition is the liable person. The order set out in the hierarchy of liability is:[2]

  • a resident with a freehold interest in the whole or any part of the property.

  • a resident with a leasehold interest, including an assured or assured shorthold tenancy which is not inferior to another such interest held by another resident

  • a resident who has a statutory tenancy, secure tenancy or introductory tenancy

  • a resident who is a licensee with a contractual license to occupy

  • any other resident, including a squatter

Two or more people at the same point of the hierarchy are equally liable.

Couples living together are jointly and severally liable. Couples are people married or in a civil partnership, or living together as if they are married or in a civil partnership.

House in multiple occupation (HMO)

A landlord is liable to pay council tax for a house in multiple occupation (HMO). The Council Tax (Liability for Owners) Regulations 1992 define an HMO for council tax purposes.

A tenant in an HMO is not liable for council tax during their tenancy or after they leave the property. The HMO is always treated as a single dwelling for council tax billing.[3]

Find out more about a house in multiple occupation.

Empty properties

The owner is liable if the property is empty unless the property is exempt. An owner includes anyone with a material interest in the property.[4]

A material interest can be a freehold interest or a leasehold interest granted for a term of six months or more.[5] This can include an assured, assured shorthold or secure tenant with a fixed term or periodic tenancy.

When a tenant's council tax liability ends

A tenant's council tax liability does not always end when they move out of the property. They might be classed as the property owner for council tax purposes and be liable for the empty property. They could be liable to pay council tax on two properties at the same time.

A tenant can remain liable if they have a tenancy for at least six months and their contractual tenancy has not ended.

During a fixed term tenancy

A fixed term tenancy runs for a specific period, normally six or 12 months. It has an identifiable start and end date.

A tenant is liable for council tax if they have a fixed term of six months or more and the tenancy has not ended. Their council tax liability continues even after they leave the property.

How long the council tax liability continues depends on whether the tenancy agreement states it will become a periodic tenancy after the fixed term ends.

When a fixed term tenancy ends

A tenant's liability for council tax when a fixed term tenancy ends depends on their agreement.

Contractual periodic tenancy

The tenancy continues as a contractual periodic tenancy if the agreement states it becomes periodic when the fixed term ends.[6] A contractual periodic tenancy is an extension of the original agreement.

If the fixed term was for at least six months, and the agreement provides for it to continue, the tenant remains liable for council tax until the contractual tenancy ends. This applies even after they leave the property.

Statutory periodic tenancy

A statutory periodic tenancy arises at the end of the fixed term if the tenancy agreement does not state what happens at the end of the term.[7] This is a new tenancy, separate from the original fixed term.[8]

A statutory periodic tenant is not liable for council tax after they leave the property. The tenancy is a periodic tenancy and the material interest is for less than six months.

When a tenancy has been periodic from the start

A periodic tenancy does not have an end date. It runs from period to period. For example, monthly or weekly.

When a tenancy has been periodic from the start the tenant's council tax liability ends on the day they move out of the property.

How a tenant can end a tenancy

A tenant's council tax liability ends when they end their tenancy properly by giving a notice to quit or agreeing a surrender.

How a tenant can end their tenancy depends on their tenancy type. Most private tenants have an assured shorthold tenancy. Read more about how a tenant ends an assured or assured shorthold tenancy.

Empty properties exempt from council tax

There are some circumstances when an empty property is exempt from council tax.[9]

This includes when:

  • the tenant is in prison

  • the property has been repossessed

  • the tenant has moved into a care home or hospital

The exemption does not apply when the tenant is in prison for not paying a fine or council tax.

The local authority might have a policy for empty property council tax discounts.

Complaints and appeals

A tenant can complain to the local authority to challenge liability.[10] If the complaint is not upheld, the tenant can escalate it to the Valuation Tribunal. The Valuation Tribunal deals with liability appeals.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman deals with complaints about how a local authority administers council tax. This can include decisions on council tax liability.

Last updated: 29 November 2023

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.6(5) Local Government Finance Act 1992.

  • [2]

    s.6(2) Local Government Finance Act 1992.

  • [3]

    Council Tax (Chargeable Dwellings and Liability for Owners) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2023 SI 1175.

  • [4]

    s.6(5) Local Government Finance Act 1992.

  • [5]

    s.6(6) Local Government Finance Act 1992.

  • [6]

    Leeds City Council v Broadley [2016] EWCA Civ 1213.

  • [7]

    s.5(2) Housing Act 1988.

  • [8]

    Superstrike Ltd v Rodrigues [2013] EWCA Civ 669.

  • [9]

    s.11(5) and Sch.1(1)(a) Local Government Finance Act 1992.

  • [10]

    s.16 Local Government Finance Act 1992.