The President of the Valuation Tribunal (England) has issued a landmark judgment today, confirming that his Tribunal has unlimited power to overturn decisions by councils which refuse to award discretionary hardship payments.
For many years, the law has given local councils the power to reduce any resident's council tax liability to "nil". This power has been brought into sharper focus since the abolition of the national Council Tax Benefit last year. Many of the poorest working-age residents in an area will normally only qualify for a maximum discount under a local council tax reduction scheme - leaving a shortfall to pay. But the discretionary power can be used to waive that balance.
In his judgment today, the President confirms that if a council refuses to exercise this power for a particular resident, they can appeal to his tribunals. The tribunals will have full power to order the council to make a further - or total - reduction, depending on the facts of each case. Previous guidance issued by the President, suggesting that the Tribunal had limited power in such cases, will be withdrawn.
The result should prompt many more applications to councils for waiver of all council tax liability for the poorest households and many more appeals to tribunals against negative decisions.
The judgment of the Valuation Tribunal is available online.
The residents in the two test cases were represented (pro bono) by Jan Luba QC as part of the Legal Action on Council Tax (LACT) project led by these chambers. Jan was instructed by Mr Sarwan Singh of City Law School.
More information about the Legal Action on Council Tax project is available on the Garden Court website.