You can’t be exempt from council tax if your home is used as a place of worship

15 February 2019
What was claimed

Muslims who use living areas within their homes as a place of worship are exempt from paying council tax. This doesn’t apply to other religions.

Our verdict

This is not correct, they wouldn’t be exempt from council tax. Places of worship for all religions can be exempt from business rates, but only if they’re officially recognised as such. The principal use of the site has to be worship.

A Facebook post has claimed that Muslims who use living areas “within their homes” as a place of worship are exempt from paying council tax. The post shows a picture of a 2013 petition saying this exemption “does not apply to other religions”.

This is not correct.

The House of Commons Library said in 2018 that this claim and others like it have “no basis in council tax law”. It added: “It is not possible for owners of domestic property to avoid council tax by claiming that their property, or part of it, is used for religious purposes”.

The briefing did note it would be “theoretically possible” for part of a home (not all of it) being used for public religious purposes to be to be “separately valued for business rates, and to be removed from the council tax valuation list”. But it also said that in such a case, the Valuation Office Agency (the government body that supplies property valuations for tax purposes) “would have to be satisfied that this reflected the real use of the property”. And it points out that this “would be unlikely to make more than a minimal difference to the council tax bill on the remainder of the property.”

Council tax is charged on homes, and the only exemption or discount relating to religion is for members of “religious communities”, for example nuns living in a convent.  There is no exemption that applies only to Muslims.

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Buildings registered for public religious worship are exempt from business rates   

Buildings of public worship belonging to the Church of England (or Wales) and their church or chapel halls are automatically official places of worship.

In England and Wales, a place of worship for any other religion or denomination has to apply to the General Register Office to be classed as an official place of religious worship, and so be exempt from business rates.

The application needs to include things like a weekly timetable of activities and a floorplan of the site. To be granted this status “the Registrar General must be satisfied that [the place’s] principal use is for worship”.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, places of worship can apply for business rate relief as part of the exemption for charities.

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