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Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (19 019 419)

Category : Benefits and tax > Council tax

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 27 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about a council tax bill for an empty property. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault, and if Mrs X disputes liability, it is reasonable for her to appeal to the tribunal.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X is unhappy about a council tax bill for a property while it was being renovated. Mrs X thinks the charge is unfair because she was paying council tax on another property.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a tribunal. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
  3. The Valuation Tribunal deals with appeals against decisions on council tax liability and council tax support or reduction.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered Mrs X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information she provided. I also gave Mrs X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on her complaint.

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What I found

  1. Mrs X purchased a property which required extensive work. Mrs X says the property could not be lived in while the work was carried out. Mrs X is unhappy about a demand for council tax for this period. Mrs X thinks the charge is unfair because she was paying council tax for another property.
  2. Council tax legislation allows councils to apply exemptions to certain properties. They can also apply discretionary discounts to individuals. Councils must apply the law and their own policies when considering whether to grant a council tax exemption or a discretionary discount. The Council’s policy is to not offer a discount, even if a property is undergoing major repairs or structural works to render it habitable.
  3. It is clear Mrs X disagrees with the Council’s policy. But it is not the role of the Ombudsman to tell councils what policies they should operate. It is therefore unlikely an investigation would find the Council to be at fault.
  4. If Mrs X wants to challenge the decision to charge council tax on the empty property, she can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. Any disputes about council tax liability, exemptions, or discounts, can be appealed to the Valuation Tribunal. It is the specific method the law provides for council tax payers to challenge decisions on their council tax liability. There is no reason Mrs X should not use the appeal right available to her.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault, and if Mrs X disputes liability, it is reasonable for her to appeal to the tribunal.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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