As More Women Choose To Live Alone, It’s Time To Question Single Council Tax

Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
If you’re confused by council tax, you’re not alone — the maths isn’t maths–ing, and two women are tired of it. Campaigners want to lobby the government to change the council tax discount for solo dwellers. People who can afford to live alone and want to — if say, they haven’t met the right partners or friendship house shares have moved on — might struggle with council tax bills. One study predicts 45% of women aged 25 to 44 will be single by 2030, so the chances are, more of us will be looking to live alone, and more of us will be footing this charge without support.
Currently, the system is set up so that people living alone in England, Scotland and Wales can claim a 25% discount on their council tax, meaning they pay 75% of the bill — meanwhile, two adults living together can split it 50% and 50%. Council tax is a charge on domestic property, paid to your local council to fund services. Some people feel the system is outdated and unfair.
Frustration over the financial burden of this resonates with many. As writer Poorna Bell put it in a widely shared post on X [formerly Twitter]: “I only got a B at GCSE Maths but can someone explain to me why the single supplement for council tax in the UK is only a 25% and not a 50% decrease? Are we all paying for some sort of live–in ghost that we aren’t aware of?? This is by far the biggest bugbear for single people.” 
People have tried to campaign for change multiple times in the past, with little to no success. Petitions need 10,000 signatures just to get a response from the government, and despite this issue affecting thousands of people across the UK, previous attempts often gained less than 100 signatures. Natalia Dziedzic, 33, decided to give fresh energy to this debate, and started her own campaign, which by far has been more successful than those attempted before. At the time of writing, she’s gained over 6,650 signatures on her petition.
Dziedzic, who works as a compliance manager, pays £189 a month in the London Borough of Barnet — this is more than the cost of her utility bills combined. If the discount were 50% it would be £141.75, saving £560 a year. She, like many, feels “frustrated” and “unfairly burdened” and so felt compelled to start the campaign after researching council tax and finding people have tried and failed to change the setup before. “The whole system isn’t designed for people who live independently. Single people aren’t an unusual case anymore,” she says. In 2022, women made up 4.4million of the 8.3million people living alone in the UK. 
“I have never been involved in any political initiatives. I try to follow daily news and vote but I have never done anything beyond that, until now. Because this issue has significantly affected my personal finances, I decided to see if there is anything I can do about it,” Dziedzic explains. “I don’t agree that financial independence or living alone should be punished in any way. It should be an option as valid and recognised by the system as living as a couple, family or group of friends. None of these being better or more valid than the other, and regardless if it is for a year or two, a decade or a whole life.”

“Mortgage costs have gone up, rents are at a historic high, all bills are increasing, so the pressure felt by people in paying council tax is only going to be heightened."

Vicky spratt, housing journalist
She is working on this alongside Beverley Reinemann, 38, who is covering social media behind the new campaign. Reinemann also thinks it’s time for a shakeup. Having lived alone for eight years in central Leeds, she is charged £109 a month with the 25% discount. If it were raised to 50%, the charge would be £72.50 a month, creating a £360 saving per year. With that money, if it existed, she’d like to go on holiday for the first time in two years, or at least lessen the burden of her bills.
“I was pleased at first to get a discount on my council tax, but overtime it occurred to me it wasn’t fair that it’s only 25%,” she tells Refinery29. “It doesn’t seem logical to me. But I really got thinking about it when Jordan won the latest series of Big Brother, and he said ‘I can pay my council tax’ and other people on X were commenting on how relatable that is. Single people are already burdened by bills that we can’t split with someone else — we’re covering everything on just one salary. For me personally, that extra 25% would make a difference. 
“The current system feels out of fashion and out of date, but politically single people living on their own typically aren’t the voters political parties want to speak to, which is why there’s a lot of rhetoric around “hard-working families” — especially when we hear them speak about the cost of living crisis. People who live alone get forgotten about.”
As society has shifted with the times, the stable family unit has waned. Living alone is a fairly new phenomena, one experts pin onto the 1960s, and it’s only continued to grow in popularity. The Office for National Statistics predicts that by 2039, the number of one–person households will rise to 10.7million. The number of women living alone is rising across all age groups — so naturally, as more women choose to be single, more of them will be looking for homes solo. 
Vicky Spratt, housing expert and author of Tenants, supports Dziedzic’s campaign and tells Refinery29 the current system is “regressive”. She explains: “I live alone and I claim my single person’s council tax discount. I can afford it based on my salary, but that’s not the case for everyone. We know that housing is particularly expensive for single mothers who we know earn less than men statistically, so their council tax bills could end up being a really big expense.
“Mortgage costs have gone up, rents are at a historic high, all bills are increasing, so the pressure felt by people in paying council tax is only going to be heightened. Councils have been told they shouldn’t be chasing council tax arrears from households who can’t afford to pay it, given the cost of living crisis — that was something MPs said a few weeks ago, but there have been reports that some councils are still sending enforcement agencies like bailiffs out when they aren’t meant to be.”
To add to this, Spratt believes an entire overhaul of the council tax system is needed. “Broadly, not even just for single people, economists agree that council tax is quite a regressive tax,” she says. “It’s expensive and the way that it’s banded means that people who don’t have lots of money often get penalised.” Based on the average Band D council tax set by local authorities in England for 2023–24, people who live alone pay £516.24 more on council tax every year than those who split the cost with a partner. If it was 50%, the average council tax bill would be £43.02 cheaper per month, bringing the cost on par with what each adult in a two–person household would pay (£86.04 per month, per person). This trend goes across the board, for example, in Wales, the average band D is £1,879 per year, with two adults paying £78.25 each per month. A person living alone would have to pay approximately £117.50 each month alone. In Northern Ireland, there is a different tax in place called rates.

“My council tax bill costs more than all of my utilities combined.”

Natalia Dziedzic, campaigner
“You’re at a disadvantage if you live alone in the current [housing] system,” says Lauren Thompson, 33, who just moved into a flat she’s bought in London, which comes with a council tax bill of £1,756.22 annually pre–discount, and £1317.16 after the discount. “I’m in a relationship but we don’t live together, and financially I’m at a disadvantage because of that choice,” Thompson says. “Even if I lived with my partner, I’d still back a campaign to reduce the council tax people living alone pay.”
“I’m covering the cost of the flat and bills on my own, and the council tax,” Thompson adds. “I might have a higher salary job for example than someone I work with, but if that person is living with a partner, the chances are that person is going to be left with more money from their pay packet than I am. If we had a system in which people living alone were made to pay 50% of the bill, to match those in shared occupancy, that money saved across a year could go towards savings, other bills, to clear debts, or for emergency expenses. This targets people who aren’t married or following tradition, those are the people suffering the consequences.” 
Liz Hunter, financial specialist and director at Money Expert, thinks some caution is needed when pushing for a reduction in council tax. “When campaigning for the single person discount for council tax to be increased from 25% to 50%, it’s worth bearing in mind that the council still needs to fund public services and that it’s a tax on the property — not the occupants,” she says. “A single person doesn’t necessarily require only 50% of the services provided, for example, the bins still need taking away and the roads still need maintenance regardless of how many people live in the property. However, they won’t have as much to take away as if there were a couple or family living in the home, so the single person discount is there to alleviate the tax burden slightly, while still funding public services. If this is increased then it could potentially have an impact on the wider community and quality of services provided by the council.”
Having said that, Hunter acknowledges the council tax system as a whole “has been criticised”. “Council tax figures are based on property prices in the 1990s, and this often sees the least well off paying the most,” she says. “This is because when the average council tax liability is expressed as a percentage of the estimated property value, the effective tax rate is higher for lower value properties, and lower for higher value properties.” Campaigns like Dziedzic’s, if successful, Hunter says would “save a lot of money for those struggling who live alone”. Prior to council tax, there was poll tax which was so wildly unpopular, people began rioting across England. Spratt says: “Economists prefer what’s called a land value tax, which is much fairer, and works on taxing land rather than property. It’s controversial and politicians don’t like doing controversial things.”  
Despite this, supporter of the campaign, Lizi Legge, 31, lives alone and feels the tax is deeply unbalanced, especially when taking into account “how it costs so much more to live as a single person, compared to a dual income household”. “It feels like the world is set up for people in relationships,” she says, and worries about those wanting to leave a relationship but feel trapped due to finances. Her annual charge, for a house in Leeds, is £1,523.19, and she wishes some of this money “could go towards the cost of food shops, which is significantly higher when cooking for one.”
Legge says this campaign to increase the single council tax discount is “long overdue”. “I’ve lived alone for nine years — it would have saved me over £2,000 in that time if it had always been 50%. I really hope the government sits up and listens.”

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