Malik v LB Tower Hamlets  EWHC 2921 (Admin)
And so, another council tax/HMO appeal finds its way to the High Court. For those of you wondering why you’ve suddenly seen more of these in the last year or so, there are two answers:
(a) a suddent and unexpected bout of efficiency has hit local authorities across England;
(b) local authorities are fed up with people who rent property leaving and owing council tax, and, rather than enforce liability promptly, have decided to try and categorise the property as an HMO and thus impose liability for council tax on the owner.
I can’t comment on which one I prefer. Anyway, since I doubt many people here do a lot of council tax work, I just want to explain how it works. Section 6, Local Government Finance Act 1992 makes provision for a specified hierarchy of persons (starting with owner occupier and moving down from there) to pay the council tax. The highest person on the list has to pay the tax. If, however, the property is an HMO, then the hierarchy falls away and the owner becomes liable to pay (s.8, 1992 Act). A property is an HMO for the 1992 Act if it meets the conditions in the Council Tax (Liability for Owners) Regulations 1992. This definition is not the one used for HMO elsewhere (like, say, HA 2004). Clear? Right.
The property in question was owned by the appellant. The authority alleged that it was occupied as an HMO by a variety of people, including a Mr Ahmed. Mr Ahmed and the appellant both denied that this was factually correct.* The Valuation Tribunal disbelieved that account and noted that the evidence (electoral register, visits from local authority officers, applications for parking permits, etc) pointed to the property being occupied by a number of people at various times.
An appeal to the High Court was dismissed. The Valuation Tribunal was entitled to disbelieve the evidence of the appellant.
*quite amazingly, the appellant appeared before the Valuation Tribunal both in his personal capacity and as solicitor for Mr Ahmed (at ). I’m rather surprised that Cranson J didn’t say a bit more about that.