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Responsibility to pay Council Tax at your sole or main home

A person is regarded as living in a property for Council Tax purposes if it is their sole or main residence. Although this is straightforward if a person only has one home, when a person has more than one home we have to decide which their main residence is. As well as paying Council Tax on your main residence you may also have to pay Council Tax on the other properties you own or rent (see our page on 'empty' properties).

We usually consider couples to have the same main home, even if both people own or rent different properties.

How we decide on your sole or main residence

If you spend time at more than one address, we have to decide which one is your main home. It is often quite obvious which property is a main home but if we cannot come to an agreement we may have to ask personal questions about your relationships and lifestyle:

Security of tenure / rights of occupation

  • At each residence, whether or not you are:
    • an owner
    • a tenant (and the nature of any tenancy)
    • a lodger
    • in accommodation provided with employment
  • Your right to occupy a property
  • Your residence is conditional, for example residence in a country is dependent on holding a work permit

Personal circumstances

We may also need to see documents as proof of your living arrangements. You may need to provide proof of:

  • At which residence you are registered with a doctor or dentist
  • Where the majority of your possessions are kept
  • Where you return to during periods of leave or at the end of employment
  • Your long-term intentions
  • Are you already regarded as mainly resident elsewhere for council tax purposes
  • Where you are registered to vote
  • Membership of clubs and other social activities
  • Where you receive post
  • Which property you regard as your main residence
  • How you split your time between your residences

Family ties

  • At which residence your partner or dependants live
  • From which residence your children attend school
  • At which residence you spend time with your family

Absences from home

You may have a main home but also own or rent another property nearer your work to use during the week, only returning to your main home at weekends. Examples of people who spend a long time away from their main home are:

  • salespeople
  • members of the armed services
  • those working at sea

By law, even if you spent time away, your main home is where you 'intend to return' and 'where you would live'. It is also where your partner and children live. A court has agreed that a property can remain a person's main residence even if they remove the furniture while they are away.

Particular circumstances

  • Merchant Seamen - cannot be resident on a ship
  • Students - are always regarded as being mainly resident at their term time address
  • Services Personnel - will be regarded as mainly resident in accommodation provided privately rather than any service accommodation

Case Law about sole or main residence

Main residence is not defined in law but over the last few years there have been a number of tribunal / court cases (see details below) to decide what is and is not main residence. The kind of things we will take into account in deciding somebody's main residence are based on judgements from these cases and include the following:

Sole or Main residence tribunal cases

CITY OF BRADFORD METROPOLITAN BOROUGH COUNCIL v NEIL ANDERTON (1991)

A merchant seaman's sole or main residence was held to be his house in Bradford on the basis that: it was where his home was; it was his settled or usual abode which he left only when the exigencies of his occupation compelled him to do so for absences of long or short duration; it was where his wife and family lived; and, he had no security of tenure on his ship. A merchant ship plying the high seas cannot in law constitute a person's residence.

WARD v KINGSTON-UPON-HULL CITY COUNCIL (1993)

Mr Ward spent only six to nine weeks in the United Kingdom and his wife was considering joining him in Saudi Arabia.

The High Court held that Mr Ward had greater security of tenure at his dwelling in the United Kingdom, as opposed to that at his employment-related accommodation in Saudi Arabia, and that on this basis Mr Ward and his wife had their sole or main residence in the United Kingdom.

CODNER v WILTSHIRE VALUATION AND COMMUNITY CHARGE TRIBUNAL (1994)

The High Court confirmed the principle that time was not the only factor to be considered in determining sole or main residence.

COX v LONDON SOUTH WEST VALUATION TRIBUNAL (1994)

The taxpayer spent time at two dwellings. The High Court concluded that the sole or main residence was the home where the wife and family resided.

DONCASTER BOROUGH COUNCIL v STARK (1997)

It was held that where a member of the Armed Forces was obliged to live in service accommodation elsewhere, his/her main place of residence remained their family home. The decision was based on Corporal Stark's security of tenure, the time spent there when not on duty, and the fact that he would return there should he no longer be required by the Forces.

This was despite the payment of Ministry of Defence deductions for Council Tax in respect of forces' accommodation.