Move to stop the Valuation Office Agency bringing back the poll tax for tenants
Written By
Alan Murdie

The Daily Express is covering an issue first picked up by Nucleus concerning the Valuation Office Agency policy of picking on tenants and licensees in shared houses to make them liable for council tax.

The Levelling Up Bill is due to be debated on Wednesday by MPs but Conservative former minister Dame Caroline Dinenage has an amendment ‘to stop a series of new rip-off council tax bills’ which will impact on tenants and licensees, many on low incomes.

The newspaper details what is happening as follows: See link :

Normally, the tenants and licensees of houses of multiple occupation should not pay council tax.

However, the Valuation Office Agency is reclassifying individual bedrooms as single flats they become liable for a Band A council tax. Each bedroom is dubbed ‘ a self-contained dwelling’ that can be taxed by the Council. These bills are then sent to tenants and licensees without warning and regardless of the existing council tax arrangements on the property.

The change shifts liability away from landlords – who previously have been paying for a single bill on the property for all tenants - on to actual tenants in the dwelling. The Valuation Office Agency ignores the fact you could not live in these rooms and it is actually the whole house that should be taxed

This issue was first encountered by Nucleus several years ago in Earl’s Court and we have repeatedly challenged it including backing appeals through tribunals.

The legal basis for rebanding properties has been challenged several times in the High Court and most recently 2022 in Salisbury v Bunyan and another [2022] 4 WLR 16 Sir Ross Cranston stated: ‘There is no avoiding the fact that there is a difference in the authorities’.

However, the Valuation Office Agency routinely ignores case law tests other than its own and imposes this re-designation without even consulting tenants and presses on doing it,

knowing it is difficult to challenge them other than in the High Court

This undeclared VOA Policy adds up to

 Poll tax through the backdoor for tenants

 Bedroom Tax Mark II

 Making en-suite rooms taxable– a toilet tax!

 Destroying HMO and shared house status; ignoring how the house is actually built and operates

 properties – forcing many tenants to move out and resulting in irrecoverable debts for councils

Effectively, this and making every tenant rooms liable for individual council tax, instead of the landlord paying one bill on the property and regardless of the fact of it being a shared house.

It does not many any sense and does not reflect the facts – since nothing has really changed in the property except in some cases the rooms have en-suite facilities fitted (often a condition with getting an HMO licence). It also runs against other tax legislation on multiple properties covered by HMRC and the council tax rules themselves – the Council Tax (Liability of Owners) Regulations 1992 SI 551 make the owner not the occupiers liable, but these rules are being ignored by the VOA.

The result is both tenants and landlords who are being picked upon are both very unhappy about, it’s upsetting settled arrangements that have been in place for years.

Worse still it’s making accommodation even more costly and precarious and some tenants and licensees are simply having to leave for cheaper accommodation.

Only then does a landlord become liable whilst the room is empty, and when faced with multiple bills and the nightmare of appealing to the Valuation Tribunal – fraught with technicalities on this point – some are just selling up and quitting the HMO business altogether, boosting scarcity of affordable accommodation yet further

Why is the Valuation Office Agency and the Civil Service doing this?

There are probably multiple reasons why they are inflicting these bills. Here are a number of factors likely to be at work.

* The Department of Levelling Up and Communities has forgotten that council is a property tax, not a head tax

* They do not realise the stance they are taking is contrary to law, both statutory instrument and case law.

* They do not understand the effect on either business or low income tenants since they do not have any joining up with the levels of benefit

* Not understanding the mechanics of council tax they do not realise that it ends up with a growth in irrecoverable debt for local government as tenants fail to pay and become untraceable.

*They do not appreciate the effect on housing numbers official or unofficial

* They are probably emotionally motivated by a series of prejudices against both landlords and tenants.

* If they but realised it they are reintroducing aversion of the colonial hut tax practised in Africa under the Empire.
* And finally, none of them live in an HMO, of course See link.

Disclaimer: This blog is for general information only.
Nothing on this blog constitutes formal legal advice or gives rise to a solicitor-client relationship.
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