Court of Appeal decision
The Court of Appeal recently heard, on appeal from the Crown Court, an interesting case on the legal responsibility of a party to inform the council that they were liable for the council tax charge on a property.
In this particular case it was alleged that the defendant had committed fraud under s1 & s3 of the Fraud Act 2006. This offence was committed “by dishonestly failing to disclose, with intent to make a gain for oneself or to cause a loss to another, information which the defendant is under “a legal duty” to disclose“.
The Crown Court trial judge dismissed this specific charge (this was one of 6 overall charges). He did so on the basis that there was no legal duty to self declare liability for council tax. The appeal to the Court of Appeal was made by the prosecution on this specific point of law.
It has long been settled that Council Tax regulations specifically provide that a person has a duty to inform the council where an existing discount or exemption no longer applies. There is, however, no legislative analogue in respect of Council Tax liability. The question therefore was whether or not there was any legal duty for a person to notify the council tax that they are liable (or cease to be liable) for a council tax charge.
Duty to declare liability
After deliberating on the points raised in the appeal the Court of Appeal found that the prosecution could not demonstrate there was any ‘legal duty’ within council tax legislation to inform the council regarding liability. On this basis the earlier decision of the Crown Court was upheld.
It should be noted that regulation 3 of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 does give the council the legal power to request information in respect of determining liability however the onus here is for the council to initiate the request, not for the liable party to do so.