Council tax appeal deadline

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Council tax payers have until the end of next month to lodge appeals against property valuations, writes Paul Gosling.

After that householders will be able to appeal only when there is a material change in circumstances, such as a road being built nearby.

So far there have been 650,000 appeals, and a further 100,000 are expected.

This is significantly fewer than the one million assumed in the Department of the Environment's contingency plans, but many more than the quarter of a million that Inland Revenue valuation officers were talking of earlier in the year.

The Valuation Office is trying to reach agreement with householders to prevent cases going to full valuation tribunals. The tribunals will be made up of lay members, operating on an independent basis. There have been 77,500 cases settled so far without the need for a hearing.

The first tribunal cases are expected to be heard next month, but progress on the outstanding appeals could be slow. In a speech this month, David Curry, local government minister, said he hoped tribunals would 'settle the bulk of these by the end of next year', but added 'the most contentious cases . . . will take longer'.

Delays in agreeing valuations are causing difficulties for local authorities. Householders are required to pay their council tax bill even when a valuation is subject to appeal, but many are failing to pay.

The Association of District Councils says this is the main reason why 10 per cent of householders have yet to make any council tax payment. Local authorities are generally not taking enforcement action for arrears where an appeal has been lodged.

Many of the appeals are unlikely to be successful because they conflict with the rules laid down by the Government.

For instance, Marie-Lancaster, who owns the leasehold of a flat in Kensington, is challenging the valuation of her flat because it assumes she has a 99-year lease, though it has only 13 years to run. Even so, she may not be successful.

As Mrs Lancaster explains, there is a big difference in value between a 13-year and a 99-year lease. 'I have been assessed as being in band G, pounds 160,000 upwards, but I should be in band B (up to pounds 52,000).

However, the Inland Revenue said that under the council tax regulations it was correct to assume that it was a 99-year lease, even if this was not the case. It added that a leaflet containing this information, published by the Department of the Environment, should have been sent to Mrs Lancaster.

Mrs Lancaster said: 'I never saw any rules that said that. It is so palpably unfair. There is a difference in value of thousands; it should be a pro rata valuation. I am more astounded that they are allowing people to appeal on it. They (the Valuation Office) obviously have some sort of conscience.'

It is understood that few people have lodged appeals on the basis of leasehold valuations. It is a problem that mostly affects flats in the inner cities and on the south coast.

Colin Farrington, director of the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation, said he was sympathetic towards leaseholders who were unhappy. 'There are clearly going to be people aggrieved by this. People got the impression that the council tax is about property valuation, but it is actually about something more abstract than that. 'Leaseholders are one example of a group that loses out as a result; tenant farmers are another.'

(Photograph omitted)

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