Homeowner who claimed Wakefield Council charged him too much council tax has complaint dismissed

A property owner who claimed he was being taxed too much for possessing an empty home has had his complaint dismissed.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 4:06 pm
Wakefield Town Hall

The man lodged the grievance after Wakefield Council increased council tax on empty properties in the district last year, a rise he claimed he couldn't afford.

But the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), which rules on complaints that have been escalated, said "council tax decisions can only be challenged in court".

In the Ombudsman's ruling, which referred to the owner as 'Mr X', it was said that the home had been empty since October 2016.

The council charges extra tax on empty homes in a bid to discourage landlords from sitting on vacant properties.

Two years after that, Mr X had to pay an extra 50 per cent on top of the standard council tax bill for the home, in line with the local authority's policy, which was brought in to discourage landlords from sitting on vacant properties.

In April 2019, the council increased the charge, with owners of empty houses now having to pay twice the rate of a home that's being used.

The ruling said that Mr X complained at this point, saying he was trying to sell the property, was in "financial hardship" and should be "exempt" from the extra tax.

In its submissions to the Ombudsman, Wakefield Council said it offered deferring the extra cash if Mr X could provide proof of his circumstances and make a written promise to pay after the property was sold.

The authority said it did not receive either, however.

In its ruling, the Ombudsman said it would "not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the council".

It added: "The council’s policy is to charge the council tax premium on properties that have been empty and unfurnished for more than two years. The council’s decision is consistent with the policy.

"A decision about council tax discounts, exemptions or premiums can only be challenged in the High Court. The Ombudsman cannot change the decision or exempt Mr X’s property from the extra charge."

Responding to the verdict, the council's chief finance officer, Neil Warren said: "We are pleased with the Ombudsman’s ruling which confirmed the property in question was classified correctly for council tax, as it was unfurnished and unoccupied.

"The demand for housing is increasing across the district so it is important to keep the number of empty homes down.

"The premium on empty homes was introduced as an incentive to bring properties back into use. We are always willing to work with residents to make alternative arrangements if the premium causes them financial problems."

Last year, a report said that there are around 4,000 empty homes in the district at any one time.

Local Democracy Reporting Service