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. This means we cannot investigate a complaint that the council tax is too high.
  • We cannot consider complaints about what council tax band a property is in. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) decides the banding and the VOA is not part of the Council. Neither we nor the Council can change the banding.
  • 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 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.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process.

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 (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)
  • the way a council takes action to recover historic arrears – a council may legally be able to recover historic arrears but should do so in a fair way
  • 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 enforcement agents (bailiffs); for example, information that you have made a payment to the council, or
  • delayed unreasonably in dealing withyour council tax support claim or did not give information about how you can challenge a decision that you have received too much council tax support (which increased the council tax).

We can also look at complaints about enforcement agents 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 enforcement agents 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 visits by enforcement agents because of the council’s errors. 
  • Recommend changes to prevent the problem happening again and affecting other people.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

In November 2020, Miss X informed the council she had moved address within its area and to close her council tax account for her previous address. In August 2021, the council closed both her original account and the account for her current address.  
Fifteen months later, in November 2022, after Miss X contacted it for a different matter, it told her of its error and she had an outstanding balance on the council tax she owed for her current address. 
We found the council at fault for delay in the administration of her council tax account after she told it of her change of address and then closing it in error. It did not write to inform her it had closed her current account which stopped her payments, and this led to a build-up of council tax debt. We also found fault it did not consider its discretion to reduce council tax liability under exceptional circumstances. 

Mr C complained the council effectively charged him twice for council tax since May 2020, following a change in occupation at his property. He said he previously made payments from a joint account. 
In June 2022, he informed the council he had been the sole occupier of the property since May 2020. Up to this point, the council tax was in the name of the other person he had lived with. The council amended the account from May 2020 to show he was the liable person from that date, awarded him the single person discount and sent him backdated bills from this date. It refunded the money paid for council tax between May 2020 and June 2022 to the person previously named on the bill into the account from which the direct debits came from. There was no evidence Mr C had paid the bills himself from an account in his sole name.  We did not find fault in how the Council administered his council tax account.

Other sources of information

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

There is also information on the Valuation Office Agency’s website at

To check your council tax band go to:

The Valuation Tribunal's website is

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.

March 2024 

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