Macattram v Camden London Borough Council (2012) QBD (Admin)
On Lawtel but no on BAILII
This is an interesting little problem involving the payment of Council Tax. The landlord had rented the property to the Council. They had used it to house homeless people. The property was rented for a fixed term of three years and at the end of this all the occupiers had left. However, the Council declined to return the property and continued to pay rent. It was accepted by all parties that a periodic tenancy arose at this point. The local authority then stopped paying the rent and sought to surrender their interest by mailing the keys to the landlord.
Rather sneakily, they then sought to charge the landlord Council Tax for the time during which the periodic tenancy subsisted. The landlord contested liability before the Valuation Tribunal and then appealed against their decision to the High Court.
The issue in the case was the correct interpretation of s6 Local Government Finance Act 1992. This section sets out who is liable to pay council tax. Subsection 2 has a hierarchical list of who is liable to pay council tax. When considering liability the correct action is to work down the list seeking to identify a person in that bracket and the person identified first is the one liable to pay the tax. This list includes residents with a leasehold interest near the top but at the bottom is an entry stating that the “owner” is liable. This is a final catch all as “owner” is defined in subsection 5 as a person having a material interest in the premises. Subsection 6 sets out that a material interest is a freehold interest or a leasehold interest granted for a term of six months or more.
The landlord argued that the original tenancy had been granted for three years, making the local authority liable for council tax. The periodic tenancy was a tenancy which arose from the fixed term and should be annexed to the main tenancy and each succeeding period of the periodic tenancy was art of the original term granted. This meant that the council remained liable for council tax. Finally, the posting of the keys had not acted as a surrender.
The High Court endorsed the findings of the Valuation Tribunal. The surrender was effective because the landlord had accepted it by her conduct. A point that the tribunal had considered and taken evidence on. In any event, it was not the case that the fixed term and periodic tenancies could be joined together in this fashion. This was something that should not be permitted easily as it undermined the wording of the Act. The parties conduct pointed to the periodic tenancy being not a continuation of the original tenancy but actually the grant of a new monthly periodic tenancy. Therefore at the time the new periodic tenancy was granted the obligation to pay council tax would have reverted to the landlord as the council would not have had a material interest. The Court disliked the idea of the liability switching back and forth depending on the length of the periodic tenancy and refused to accept that the successive periods of the periodic tenancy should be aggregated together to determine the size of the interest. If the periods had been six monthly then a different decision might have been made. However, that had not happened in this case.
Accordingly the appeal was dismissed.
This is an interesting case which should serve as a warning for anyone letting to a council. It would apply equally to any case where a tenant let a property on a periodic basis but was not if fact resident there and where no other person was liable to council tax. A number of businesses in London rent properties from landlords and sub-let them for holidays and the like. In these cases this decision might also be relevant.