Watchdog rejects claim over 'morally wrong' council tax charge

A homeowner complained it was “morally wrong” for Telford & Wrekin Council to charge him a tax premium straight after he bought his house, saying doing so punished him for the previous owner’s actions, a report says.

Telford & Wrekin Council charges double council tax on properties that have been vacant for more than two years, a move aimed at discouraging “absentee owners” and promoting occupancy. This rises to treble after five years and quadruples at 10.

A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report says “Mr X” bought a house last year but, because he did not move in immediately and it had been vacant for just over two years before the purchase, was immediately charged the 200 per cent rate – something he said was unfair.

The watchdog declined to investigate, saying Telford & Wrekin Council followed the law and its policies correctly.

The ombudsman's anonymised decision notice says Mr X planned to spend time renovating before moving in, but “he says he was forced to move into the house early when it was still in a poor condition to end the extra charge”.

He moved in the following March and the council reverted to taxing the house at the normal rate.

“Mr X accepts the charge may be legally correct but say it is morally wrong,” the report adds.

“He had no control over the house before he bought it and says he is out of pocket by £550 for something the previous owner did. He says a different council gives new owners six months’ leeway.

“Mr X wants the council to waive the premium charge and transfer the extra council tax he paid into his account for this year.”

The ombudsman's report says there is “insufficient evidence of fault by the council”, adding that it is within its rights to impose premiums on empty homes “regardless of any change in ownership”.

“The charge is dependent on the status of the property and is not dependent on who the owner is,” it says.

“The council’s decision to charge the premium is consistent with the law and its policy so there is no reason to start an investigation.

“It is not my role to comment on whether the council tax billing system is morally right.

“I also will not start an investigation because I cannot achieve the outcome Mr X would like. There is no suggestion of fault so no grounds on which I could ask the council to waive the charge.”

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