Council tax

6.Misconceptions about council tax

On this page:

    Statutory law

    There is a lot of incorrect information, and many misconceptions, about your liability for council tax payments.

    Your liability for council tax

    You do not have the choice of whether you are liable for council tax, as liability is determined in accordance with the statutory law.

    The authority to charge council tax comes from the Local Government Finance Act 1992. The legislation covering council tax is freely available from the Government Legislation website, including:

    The council will start recovery action if you withhold council tax, which will incur additional costs. In extreme cases this could lead to a prison sentence or the forced sale of your home.

    If you have any concerns over the charging of council tax, please seek proper legal advice from a solicitor or through an independent advice provider such as Citizens Advice, rather than relying on internet sources, before withholding payment.

    Some misconceptions regarding council tax, and your legal obligation to pay it, are detailed below.

    Signed contract

    Council tax liability is created by statute, and a contract is not required.

    We sometimes receive correspondence from residents referring to the Companies Act, Contracts Act, Bill of Exchange Act or other acts stating that council tax is a contract and requires signatures, indicating an agreement between parties and this is incorrect and is not relevant.

    There does not need to be a contract or agreement to be in place because council tax liability does not arise from a contractual relationship or agreement between the parties. Council tax is a tax in respect of dwellings.

    Freeman of the land

    Claiming to be freeman of the land does not make you exempt from paying council tax.

    The council often receives letters and emails from members of the public who use freeman of the land, and other similar type views, to argue that citizens are only bound by statutes when they have consented to be bound by them. This is wrong. Contract law and alleged rights under common law are not the same as statute law relating to the administration and collection of council tax.

    As a council tax payer you do not have a choice as to whether you are liable for council tax, and calling yourself a ‘freeman’, or using freeman argument, will not exempt you from paying council tax.

    Changing your name will also not affect your council tax liability. For example, John Smith changing his name to John of the family Smith (or some other similar name) would not affect John Smith’s historic council tax liability, nor will it excuse John of the family Smith from any ongoing council tax liability. This is because John Smith and John of the family Smith are the same person.

    Liability for council tax is determined by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, which received royal assent on 6 March 1992. The Act and the statutory regulations, which arise from that Act, set out a local authority’s right to demand council tax to fund services. The Act and regulations also set out who is liable to pay and how council tax can be collected.

    Liability for council tax does not therefore depend on, nor does it require, your consent, or the existence of any contractual relationship between you and the council. Any such assertion to the contrary is wrong. There is no legal basis upon which to make that type of argument.

    Validity of a Court summons

    Validity of a liability order

    There is no requirement for the liability order:

    • to be sealed by a court stamp.
    • feature a signature of a court official. It can be issued with the typed name of the Justices’ Clerk or senior HMCTS manager who authorises the order on behalf of the Court even if the order was issued by the Magistrates.

    The Magna Carta

    Very occasionally the council is contacted by people who are convinced that they can use a piece of archaic law or an interpretation of an archaic law as a means to excuse them from paying council tax. There are many misleading articles and templates on the internet regarding the legality of council tax.

    Anyone drawing on these for advice should exercise caution and the council would always recommend that proper legal advice is sought before using them or relying on them as a defence against payment of council tax based on contract, consent or a view of the common law.

    Acceptance of an assertion

    While we will always do our best to answer relevant enquiries about council tax, the council does not have to rebut your assertion. Just because the council may choose not to respond does not mean that it accepts what you say. The council always reserves the right to refuse to respond to any lengthy, spurious or incoherent enquiries that focus on hypothetical arguments which have no basis in law, and which use our resources at the expense of other taxpayers. Silence can never be interpreted as acceptance it simply means that the council has not responded.

    If you have any concerns over the charging of council tax, please seek proper legal advice from a solicitor or through an independent advice provider such as Citizens Advice, rather than relying on internet sources before withholding payment.

    Verifying an Act of Parliament

    The council often gets asks by members of the public to prove that Acts of Parliament exist and that they apply to them. Acts of Parliaments are the law. The council does not have to prove an Act exists nor does it have to prove that the obligations in the Act apply to you. If you have questions regarding Acts of Parliament or how laws apply to you, these should be directed to a legal professional, and not to the council.

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    Wet ink signature, Court stamp, or Court seal

    A summons for non-payments does not need a wet ink signature, Court stamp, or Court seal to be valid. The signature (which can be electronic) of the Magistrate, Justices' Clerk, or Legal Advisor who issued it, needs to be on the summons.

    Printed name

    There is no requirement for a printed name to be supplied (if the position of the issuing authority is provided).

    This is outlined under rule 109 of the Magistrates Courts Rules 1981.

    Summons produced by the council

    There is no statute which authorise or prevents a council preparing a summons on the court’s behalf.

    Under section 51 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980 (external website) a person can apply to the Magistrates Court for a summons. If it is granted, it is customary that the person applying drafts their own summons, which in the case of the council tax is the local authority.