Dacorum Borough Council (23 000 969)

Category : Benefits and tax > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 16 May 2023

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint the amount of business rates payable for his business premises as this is based on a rateable value set by the Valuation Office Agency, rather than any decision by the Council. We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s actions to recover the rates as there is not enough evidence of fault.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr X, complains about the amount of his business rates bill for 2022/23. He is unhappy the Council has taken the matter to court and that he was unable to speak in his defence at the court hearing, as he did not receive a summons. He also complains the Council has instructed enforcement agents (bailiffs) to collect the unpaid business rates from him.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse effect on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if the tests set out in our Assessment Code are not met. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by Mr X and the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.

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My assessment

  1. Business rates are a tax on the occupation of non-domestic property. The level of business rates payable for each property is calculated by taking a set figure (the rate poundage) decided by the Secretary of Stage for the Environment and approved by Parliament and multiplying this by the property’s rateable value.
  2. The rateable value is decided by the District Valuer on behalf of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which keeps the business rating list. The Council does not set the amount of business rates owed for each premises; it simply bills and collects the rates.
  3. It is not fault for the Council to pursue Mr X for unpaid business rates or to apply for a liability order against him for the debt at court. The Council has explained that Mr X’s dispute over the rateable value of his premises would not have been a relevant consideration for the court and could not therefore have been a reason to challenge the application, even if Mr X had received the summons and attended the hearing.
  4. If Mr X wishes to challenge the amount of business rates owed he would need to do this by challenging the rateable value, which he would do by contacting the VOA. If the VOA refuses to change the rateable value, or if Mr X remains unhappy with any new rateable value decided by the VOA, he may appeal to the Valuation Tribunal.
  5. The Council confirms that in the event the VOA reduces the rateable value the Council will amend its bill to take account of its decision. It has explained this process to Mr X on several occasions dating back to April 2022 and it is the only way Mr X may challenge the rateable value and, by extension, the amount of business rates owed.
  6. The Council is under no obligation to cease recovery action in the meantime or to pursue Mr X for a lesser amount based on the possibility he may challenge the rateable value at some point in the future.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because the Council is not responsible for setting the rateable value of Mr X’s premises and there is not enough evidence of fault in its actions to recover payment from Mr X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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