retrospective council tax charges

North Lanarkshire Council did not have the information requested.

Amanda Bennett

Dear Sir or Madam,

Can you please indicate the number of cases in which North Lanarkshire Council has applied Council Tax charges against an individual retrospectively in the last 6 years? That is, provide the number of cases where the council has, for example, granted a resident council tax exemption for a period of time, then later decided that the exemption was granted in error, and so charged the council tax in "arrears".

If council tax has been applied retrospectively to any resident, please state the reason (e.g. "a resident was given student exemption in error. NLC made this error because..."

For how long did the council give the council tax exemption in error (the periods of time in each case)?

How did the council discover the error?

By how much money was the resident(s) concerned therefore liable to pay back in arrears due to the Council's own error in applying council tax exemption?

Were residents given the opportunity of contesting such arrears in court? If not, why not?

If a resident, or a number of residents, have been given a council tax exemption in error (made by NLC) and this resulted in council tax being applied retrospectively to recoup the tax exempted, what steps did the Council take to recover those (enforced) arrears?

Did any of those residents subject to such retrospective charging of council tax complain to the Council about this?

What was the outcome of those complaints? That is (or alternatively), if the Council did make an error, or errors, resulting in residents building up Council tax arrears, how did the Council justify subjecting a resident to such arrears?

Are residents able to make any form of appeal against paying Council tax retrospectively, if arrears are due to NLC's own error?

How would the Council respond to the suggestion that it applies charges retrospectively, but does not apply benefit/exemption retrospectively? That is, that NLC applies council tax retrospectively (applying them at a later date when initially exempted due to its own error) but will not back-date claims for council tax benefit. How would the Council justify this position?

Yours faithfully,

Amanda Bennett

Hazarika Sandra, North Lanarkshire Council

Dear Ms Bennett,

I acknowledge receipt of your email which is receiving attention.

I shall contact you again when I am in a position to respond more fully
to your request.


Yours sincerely,

Sandra Hazarika
For Corporate Freedom of Information Officer
North Lanarkshire Council
Civic Centre
Windmillhill Street
Motherwell
ML1 1AB
(01698) 302232

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Keachie Jacqueline, North Lanarkshire Council

Dear Ms. Bennett,

I refer again to your e-mail dated 5 May 2009 seeking information on
retrospective Council Tax charges.

Having investigated, I regret to advise you that there is no database
which records the detail of the information you seek, and in terms of
Section 17 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 I must
advise you that the information as sought, is not held.

By way of some explanation, retrospective changes to Council Tax are
applied for many reasons such as:- Council Tax Band increases, amendment
of discount due to changes in household consumption or failure to return
a discount review form, late entries to the Valuation Roll, and amending
existing liability details due to changes in tenancy or the sale of a
property. These changes are a daily occurrence, and it is not possible
to differentiate between retrospective increases in Council Tax due to
changes in exemption from any other increases.

Council Tax exemption is awarded based on information supplied by the
Council Tax payer and, as above, such causes as authority error are not
separately recorded on the database. Furthermore, benefit/exemption can
be granted retrospectively for any backdated period of Council Tax
liability provided that the appropriate documentation is received and
the cause for backdating complies with the legislation.

I can advise that North Lanarkshire Council, having regard to the
provisions of Section 21 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act
2002, has established a procedure whereby any person who has requested
information and is in any way dissatisfied with the decision on that
request, can require a review of that decision by writing to the
Executive Director of Corporate Services, Civic Centre, Windmillhill
Street, Motherwell ML1 1AB. Accordingly, if you are dissatisfied with
this decision and seek such review please write to the Executive
Director of Corporate Services.

I would advise, also, that in terms of Section 47 of the Act a person
who is dissatisfied with a notice given by the local authority under
Section 21 of the Act - ie. a notice following a review of a decision by
a local authority, or by the failure of a local authority to give such a
notice - may make application to the Scottish Information Commissioner
for a decision as to whether, in any respect specified in that
application, the request for information to which the requirement
relates has been dealt with in accordance with the Act. Such an
application must be in writing or in another form which, by reason of it
having some permanency is capable of being used for subsequent reference
- for example a recording made in audio or video tape - must state the
name of the applicant and an address for correspondence and must specify
the request for information to which the requirement for review relates,
the matter which gave rise to the applicant's dissatisfaction with the
original decision of the local authority and the matter which gives rise
to the applicant's dissatisfaction with the decision on review by the
local authority or the failure of the local authority to issue such a
decision. The Scottish Information Commissioner can be contacted as
follows:-

Scottish Information Commissioner
Kinburn Castle
Doubledykes Road
St. Andrew's
KY16 9DS

I hope this information is sufficient for your purpose. If, however,
you require further information - or I can assist in any other way -
please let me know.

Yours sincerely,

Jacqueline Keachie
For Corporate Freedom of Information Officer
North Lanarkshire Council
Civic Centre
Windmillhill Street
Motherwell
ML1 1AB
(01698) 302232

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Amanda Bennett

Dear Sir or Madam,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of North Lanarkshire Council's handling of my FOI request 'retrospective council tax charges'.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/re....

Most specifically, I would like to focus your attention on this paragraph in the Council's reply:

'By way of some explanation, retrospective changes to Council Tax are applied for many reasons such as:- Council Tax Band increases, amendment of discount due to changes in household consumption or failure to return a discount review form, late entries to the Valuation Roll, and amending existing liability details due to changes in tenancy or the sale of a
property.'

I had asked, in my FOI request to the Council, for details of council tax charges made in ERROR, that is, council tax charges being applied a year or more later because the Council had made a mistake. None of the above circumstances address the point of my request, they simply provide other scenarios which might legitimately alter the amount of council tax charged. Thus, the respondent does not answer my question.

Again, please note the reply from the Council states:

"These changes are a daily occurrence, and it is not possible to differentiate between retrospective increases in Council Tax due to changes in exemption from any other increases."

Indeed. That is not what I asked for in my FOI request. What I asked was details of the Council's ERRORS in taxing residents (NOT changes of circumstances). This information does not have to be kept in a database in the form that your respondent suggests. The Council must have details of arrears owed and why the arrears are owed, otherwise how could the Council enforce debt recovery of such so-called arrears?

If this is too difficult, please stick to the scenario suggested in my initial request: has the Council granted anyone student exemption (after being provided with the necessary documentation) and then later decided that it -the Council-has made an error, then applied retrospective charges against a resident? Then please answer the questions with this scenario in mind. Please check debt recovery letters and/or by 'phoning local revenue managers to ask whether such an incident has occurred in the last few years.

Surely the Council must operate a procedure whereby errors are investigated, even on a staff disciplinary basis? How can debt recovery be initiated for Council error and no records be kept?

I just find it hard to believe that the Council does not have this information.

Yours sincerely,

Amanda Bennett

Fleming John, North Lanarkshire Council

Dear Ms Bennett,

I refer to your e-mail of 1 June - in particular, to your request for a
review of the response to your Freedom of Information request regarding
retrospective Council Tax charges - and would advise that the matter has
been passed to me in order that I might fully consider the matter.

In doing so, I have noted that your initial request sought:-

* the number of instances where the Council has applied Council Tax
charges retrospectively in the past six years
* the reason in each instance
* the period covered in each case
* how did the Council discover the error
* how much money each was liable to pay back
* was each individual given the opportunity of contesting the arrears in
court
* what steps did the Council take to recover arrears
* details of any complaints by any individual concerned
* outcome of complaints
* right of appeal.

I have, further noted that, in response, Ms Keachie on behalf of the
Council's Corporate Freedom of Information Officer advised that there is
no database which records the detail of the information you seek - and
concluded that, in terms of Section 17 of the Freedom of Information
(Scotland) Act 2002, she required to advise you that the information as
sought was not held.

I have noted, also, that she further advanced an explanation giving
background to the variety of reasons which can lead to retrospective
changes to Council Tax - and indicated that those changes are not
categorised by reason.

I have further noted all you say in your e-mail of 1 June.

Having now fully considered the matter I can confirm that the position is
as outlined in Ms Keachie's e-mail: there are very many instances of
retrospective change to Council Tax and no separate database exists of
such, if any, of these as are attributable to error on the part of the
Council. To that extent I can readily appreciate why Ms Keachie came to
the conclusion that it was necessary in terms of Section 17 of the Act to
advise you that the information is not held.

That being said, however, the Council does undoubtedly hold records of all
instances in which retrospective changes to Council Tax are applied - and
scrutiny of each of those records would, no doubt, enable the Council to
compile the information you seek. That, however, would require dedicated
scrutiny of each individual case to extract the necessary information.
That, as you will appreciate, would be highly labour intensive and I have
to advise that the cost of so doing would exceed the amount prescribed for
the purposes of Section 12 of the Act by the regulations made by Scottish
Ministers.

Against that background I must advise that, to the extent that no separate
database exists the information is, indeed, not held and that, as the cost
of compiling the information exceeds the prescribed amount, the exemption
in Section 12 of the Act is applicable.

Having reached that conclusion, I required to consider whether the public
interest in disclosing the information outweighed that in maintaining the
exemptions - and, having regard to the cost pressures on local government
as a whole and North Lanarkshire Council in particular and the extent of
staff time and costs which would be involved, I was forced to the
conclusion that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs
that in disclosing the information.

I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful on this occasion - and I confirm
that, if you were to feel it possible to focus your request more closely,
I should certainly arrange to investigate to ascertain if it would be
possible to provide you with information which would assist you. If you
consider that this would be possible, please let me know.

Otherwise, I can confirm that in terms of Section 47 of the Freedom of
Information (Scotland) Act 2002 a person who is dissatisfied with a notice
given by a local authority under Section 21 of the Act - i.e. a notice
following a review of a decision by a local authority - may make
application to the Scottish Information Commissioner for a decision as to
whether, in any respect specified in that application, the request for
information to which the requirement relates has been dealt with in
accordance with the Act. This letter does constitute a notice given by
North Lanarkshire Council under Section 21 of the Act, and the Scottish
Information Commissioner can be contacted as follows

Scottish Information Commissioner

Kinburn Castle

Doubledykes Road

St. Andrews

Fife

KY16 9DS.

I must advise, also, that Section 56 of the Freedom of Information
(Scotland) Act 2002 makes provision for an appeal, on point of law, to the
Court of Session against a decision made by the Scottish Information
Commissioner under Subsection 2 of Section 49 by the person who applied
for that decision - and against a decision by the Commissioner under
Subsection 3(b) of that section by the person who applied for that
decision.

Yours sincerely,

John Fleming
Head of Central Services

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George Cant left an annotation ()

Hi,

I do not agree with this responce. if the requester of this information still wants it i will ask in a week or so.

what i found at my counil http://www.crazycouncil.co.uk/?page_id=493

comminmg for all councils http://compareyourcouncil.co.uk/

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

In respect of discounts, if when you get your bill you realise that the amount of discount is incorrect, which you should know because of the explanations sent with it then you do have a civil law duty to inform the council. You could not be excused from paying on the grounds that the council had mistakenly deducted the discount. You would have to appeal against the decision not to deduct the appropriate amount.

I do not know what reg would apply to exemptions applied when all the residents of a house are students but I imagine that they are similar.

It is legally dubious whether failing to respond to a council tax discount 'review' letter gives good cause for issuing an adjusted demand notice. It does not affect entitlement and if the council does issue an unlawful bill for money one does not owe in this situation then one has a right of appeal to a valuation tribunal if necessary.

I hope this is helpful.

Mr.Targett left an annotation ()

This scenario happened to me:
A student discount was being given to my partner who had started a 3 year course. I had to go into council buildings to show in person the statement from the University showing the exact course dates. When this time was up they did not automatically remove the discount and the council tax demand showed the discount rate. I phoned them and advised them of this immediately.
A year later I receive a letter telling me that they are going to take (not asking me for, going to take!) over £315 from my bank. When I called them they said they "had no record" of me telling them. I don't think I have any way of proving that I called them so I guess I just have to pay up and make sure I get names and reference numbers in future!