Council tax for second homes: everything you need to know

Rye, East Sussex - a nice place to get a second home

If you own a second or holiday home in England, you may have to pay more council tax from April 2025. Find out second home council tax rules.

If you own a second home or are considering buying one, the council tax implications have no doubt crossed your mind. It used to be the case that second or holiday homes attracted a lower council tax bill, because it was assumed that the owners would rely on fewer local services.

However, this is largely no longer the case. In Wales, local authorities have the power to increase council tax by up to 300% on second homes. And similar powers are tabled to be introduced in England, thought to be launching in April 2025.

Here we look at the council tax for second homes rules, including holiday homes and empty homes.

If you’re looking to lower your council tax bill, one potential way is by checking which council tax band you fall under. If your property is in the wrong band, you might get a reduction.

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What is council tax?

Council tax is charged per property by local authorities. It covers services such as rubbish collection, local emergency services and maintenance of public spaces, such as parks.

For more details, see what council tax is and how much you need to pay.

Council tax is charged per household – whether that’s an owner or tenant – and works on the assumption that at least two people over 18 live there.

Certain people may be ‘disregarded’ for council tax purposes, such as those under 18 or live-in care workers. Others may be entirely exempt, such as those in full-time education, and people who are severely mentally impaired (SMI). Find out more about who qualifies for a council tax reduction.

What counts as a second home for council tax?

If a property is furnished but no one lives there, or the owner’s main home is elsewhere, then it’s likely to qualify as a second home for council tax purposes. 

This is distinct from rental properties, where the tenant is liable for council tax.

Do I have to pay council tax on a second home?

If you own a property that fits this description, you’ll have to pay council tax on it. This is likely to be the full amount, in addition to what you pay for the property you live in.

It used to be the case that second home owners could get a discount on their council tax. You can contact your council via GOV.UK to see if this is the case in your area. But it’s more likely than not that no discount will be available.

In fact, there are proposals to give local authorities in England the power to increase council tax on second homes, which is likely to come into force in April 2025.

This has already been the case in Wales since April 2023, where local authorities have the discretion to raise council tax by up to 300% on second homes. This is known as a council tax premium, which is paid on top of the normal council tax.

In addition, to qualify for business rates, the owners of holiday homes must fill their properties for 182 nights a year – an increase from the previous number of 70.

Do I have to pay council tax on an empty home?

The amount of council tax payable on an empty home may depend on why it’s empty, and how long it’s been empty for. As before, you should check your local council rules.

Discounts may be offered in situations such as if a property needs construction work in order to make it safe. If a property is unfurnished and clearly not lived in, it’s worth checking your local authority’s rules to see if you’re eligible for a discount.

However, rules tighten up if the property is empty over the long term (usually over two years), and they may become liable for more council tax. In England, this is up to an additional:

  • 100% for properties empty for 2 to 5 years
  • 200% for properties empty for 5 to 10 years
  • 300% for properties empty for over 10 years

This is the maximum amount that a council can set, but they may choose to charge less.

But it’s also worth noting that the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill may amend the definition of ‘long term empty homes’ to 12 months. This means you could potentially pay double the council tax for an empty home after a year.

Are there any exceptions?

In the case of both second homes and those empty long-term, there are certain council tax exemptions.

If the property has a pitch occupied by a caravan, or a mooring with a boat, then it’s likely you can get a council tax exemption. What this usually means in practice is that a static caravan on a caravan park won’t be liable for council tax (although you’ll usually pay the park owner a service charge), provided it’s a second residence. 

An annex connected to your home (AKA a ‘granny flat’) used by family members can often qualify for a 50% discount on council tax. This may go up to 100% where it’s a dependent family member, such as someone with a disability or an elderly parent.

If the annex is empty, it’s unlikely to be liable for council tax.

Do I have to pay council tax on a buy-to-let property?

If you own a buy-to-let (BTL) property, the council tax is usually the tenants’ responsibility. The main exception here would be a house in multiple occupation (HMO), where the household is made up of at least three tenants who live separately – but share certain facilities, such as a toilet, bathroom or kitchen.

How much does council tax cost?

Council tax is divided by band, and varies from council to council. You can check which council tax band you’re on here, but the average annual household payments are:

  • England: £2,065
  • Scotland: £1,347
  • Wales: £1,879

If you think you’re paying too much council tax, find out if you’re eligible for a council tax reduction or discount. In Northern Ireland, there’s a different system of rates. You can see if you’re eligible for a reduction at nidirect.