Some of the most common disputes raised regarding Council Tax liability are those which occur in respect of a liability order and whether it can be defended against at the court hearing – ‘I’m not liable for the Council Tax charge’ etc . As is common in many situations the legislation is already written to deal with most of these types of disputes.
What a Magistrate must consider in the dispute ?
When it comes to determining if there is a valid dispute which can be heard by the magistrates court a key aspect which needs to be considered is that of Regulation 57 of the Council Tax (Administration & Enforcement) regulations 1992 (LGFA92).
57.—(1) Any matter which could be the subject of an appeal under section 16 of the Act may not be raised in proceedings under this Part
The ‘this part‘ stated in regulation 57 refers to the part of the regulations dealing with the issuing of court summons, liability orders and the enforcement of unpaid council tax.
Section 16 Council Tax appeals
Section 16 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 (S16 of the LGFA92) provides details of what cases the Valuation Tribunal can hear in respect of Council Tax. The relevant part states :
16 Appeals: general.
(1)A person may appeal to a valuation tribunal if he is aggrieved by—
(a)any decision of a billing authority that a dwelling is a chargeable dwelling, or that he is liable to pay council tax in respect of such a dwelling; or
(b)any calculation made by such an authority of an amount which he is liable to pay to the authority in respect of council tax.
(2)In subsection (1) above the reference to any calculation of an amount includes a reference to any estimate of the amount.
Wiltshire Council v Piggin
Wiltshire Council v Piggin was a Council Tax appeal which made it to the High Court. The Magistrates Court had declined to grant a liability order following representation from Mr Piggin on a point of Council Tax liability and Wiltshire Council appealed the matter. Whilst the Magistrates had declined to find Mr Piggin liable, a Valuation Tribunal on the same matter found the opposite.
On the basis of S16 of the LGFA92 the court found that the Magistrates Court had no powers to refuse the liability order as the dispute over liability was outside of their remit to consider and, instead, a matter for a Valuation Tribunal appeal.
What happens whilst you’re disputing Council Tax liability or a Council Tax discount/exemption
None of the Valuation Tribunal appeal reasons covered by S16 of the LGFA92 can be used as a reason against the granting of a liability order (as per Regulation 57) – it’s not that they may not be valid reasons but that the magistrates court cannot consider them. A discount against Council Tax liability, a discount or exemption is therefore not a valid defence in the eyes of the court.
The local authority can apply for, and be granted, a liability order whilst you are in the middle of a Council Tax liability dispute. This can happen even if you are making a Valuation Tribunal appeal. Although they would need to revise their action if ordered to do so by a tribunal decision the charge is determined to be correct until shown otherwise. Any enforcement action continues during this period, at the discretion only of the local authority. It is probably a good idea to approach the local authority and ask them to halt any action until the tribunal gives their verdict.
Does this mean I can try and dispute it ?
You could try and raise a dispute with the court regarding liability as a defence however it would be expected that, on the basis of the High Court decisions, that the court are likely to continue with granting the order. It may however be possible to persuade the court to adjourn the hearing if there is a good reason to do so.
What about Council Tax Reduction ?
Council Tax Reduction (unlike Council Tax Benefit) is a reduction under Section 13A of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 (LGFA92) and therefore is treat the same as any other discount for the purposes of a Liability Order.
What about Council Tax Benefit ?
Although Council Tax Benefit was a stand-alone benefit which paid Council Tax, and not a discount under the Council Tax scheme, it was found in the case of R v Bristol City Magistrates’ Court and Bristol City Council ex Parte Willsman and Young that disputing Council Tax Benefit claims or waiting for it to be paid did not stop a Local Authority from continuing collection.
Assistance from LGFA92
Good quality help with your Council Tax dispute can be hard to come across – there’s a lack of independent, expert, places where you can get the help you need however LGFA92’s Council Tax advisor is here to change that. See how we can help today
Contact us today. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, Call our Council Tax helpline on 0191 6451118.
This article is solely the view of LGFA92, the Council Tax experts, based on our interpretation of legislation. Your local authority is free to dispute this view. A binding decision may require the intervention of a valuation tribunal.