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Council tax

This fact sheet is aimed chiefly at anyone who is experiencing problems with their council tax account and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have a problem with my council tax. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Sometimes, yes. But there are some matters the law does not allow us to look at:

  • We cannot deal with a complaint about something that affects nearly everyone living in a council’s area, such as the level of council tax it has set.
  • We cannot consider a council's decision to change its discount and exemption scheme, including increased charges for empty properties. The law says these decisions can only be challenged by a judicial review in the High Court.
  • We cannot normally deal with complaints about issues where you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. These include:
    • the council tax band your property is in
    • whether you are liable for council tax
    • whether a property is your main residence or second home
    • whether you are entitled to an exemption or discount
    • whether an empty property premium applies, or
    • whether you are a student for council tax purposes.
  • We cannot look at what goes on in court.

We can consider other complaints about the way the council has dealt with your council tax.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your council tax account which has caused you problems. Some issues we can look at are if the council:

  • failed to give you information it should have (such as entitlement to reductions in the tax or your right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal)
  • failed to tell you about or consider an application for a discretionary reduction in the council tax
  • failed to act on information you provided (especially where this affects your liability for council tax or your entitlement to discounts or exemptions)
  • delayed in dealing with disputes
  • made mistakes in dealing with your payments (such as failing to credit them to your account, allocating them to the wrong account, or failing to pay in council tax support you have been awarded)
  • continued to take recovery action against you when it shouldn’t (such as when you have already paid off the debt, or you are keeping to an agreed arrangement to pay the debt)
  • failed to pass on important information to the bailiffs (such as that you have cleared your arrears), or
  • delayed unreasonably in dealing withyour council tax support claim.

We can also look at complaints about bailiffs acting on behalf of the council, for example if they behave unreasonably or make unreasonable charges. (See our fact sheet on complaints about bailiffs).

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

We cannot decide whether you are liable to pay council tax or whether you are entitled to exemptions or discounts. But, if we find that something has gone wrong in the way the council dealt with your council tax account we can ask it to:

  • take action to put the matter right, such as correcting mistakes on council tax records and issuing the right bills and demands
  • ensure that payments you have made or council tax support awards are properly paid into your account
  • deal with your correspondence or appeal
  • withdraw a summons or bailiffs and waive costs where appropriate, or
  • pay a financial remedy. Whether we ask for a financial remedy and the amount we recommend will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong. For example if you have received any unnecessary summonses, liability orders or bailiffs visits because of the council’s errors. 

Where we find fault with the council’s procedures we will often recommend that the council makes changes so the same problem does not occur again in the future.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

In 2010 Mr J’s property was repossessed. He moved to another address in the Council’s area and was paying his council tax there. He had arrears of council tax for his old property. The Council had taken recovery action, including sending bailiffs to his new address. Mr J arranged with the Council to pay the debt. The Council’s records did not show any payments received since early 2013. When the payments stopped Council did not take any action at the time.
In October 2019 the Council wrote to Mr J about the debt, asking him to pay it. Mr J objected saying he disagreed with the amount due. He said because six years had passed he no longer had records of payments he believed he had made.
Councils have a right to collect debts owed to them. But in this case we found the Council to be at fault. It had known where Mr J was all along but had not contacted him about the debt. Because of its own delay he could no longer contest the debt. The Council agreed to write off the debt Mr J was disputing and review its policy on recovering historic debts.

In February 2019 Mr X moved from Property A to Property B, both in the same council area. He arranged for his post to be redirected from Property A to Property B for three months. The new owner of property A told the Council they had moved in; they did not give a forwarding address for Mr A. In March 2019 Mr X told the Council he had moved into Property B, not that he had moved from Property A. Mr X owed a sum of council tax for Property A. The Council could not assume the Mr X at property B was the same Mr X who had moved from Property A. So the only address the Council had for Mr X’s debt for Property A was that property.
The Council wrote to Mr X about the debt; the letter Royal Mail forwarded the letter to Mr X. Mr X called the Council to dispute the debt; he was in a hurry so said he could not give his new address. Mr X says he later called the Council and gave them the new address; the Council says it has no record of the call. The Council emailed Mr X to explain where the debt came from. Mr X did not pay the debt so the Council sent a reminder, summons and notice of enforcement to Mr X, addressed to Property A. By this time the postal redirection had ended. The occupier of Property A sent the notice of enforcement to Mr X; if they sent the other letters Mr X says he did not receive them.
Mr X complained to the Council. He said he would pay the council tax debt, but not the recovery costs. The Council did not accept this and so Mr X complained to us.
We did not find the Council was at fault. It had, as the law allows, sent the correspondence to Mr X’s last known address and explained him where the debt had come from.

Other sources of information

Most councils have lots of information on council tax on their own websites.

There is also information on the Valuation Office Agency’s website at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/valuation-office-agency

To check your council tax band go to: www.gov.uk/council-tax-bands

The Valuation Tribunal's website is www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

June 2021