Council tax extension on probate
My mother died late last year but due to Christmas and then the COVID-19 pandemic we haven’t been able to sell her house and the local authority is now asking us to pay council tax again. This seems unfair, is there anything we can do about this?
There is a six-month exemption from council tax which applies where the person who was liable has died. However, what is often overlooked is that this timeframe only runs from the date of the Grant of Probate, not the date of death.
So, if probate has been issued, check the date on this to see if you are still within the six-month timeframe and if you are, send a copy of the document to the local authority who should update its records. If probate has not yet been issued, then inform the local authority of this and they should continue to apply the exemption.
If the Grant was issued over six months ago, then in normal circumstances council tax would be due. But many executors are experiencing delays in the sale of properties because of the pandemic and subsequent difficulties in paying council tax mean you could consider applying to the local authority for discretionary relief.
In March 2020, the Government announced an additional £500m for local authorities to support those struggling with their council tax bill because of COVID-19. Local authorities were encouraged to review existing discretionary powers and use the grant to help those affected by the pandemic.
My local authority in Kent, for example, received an additional £2million from the Government and has reportedly handed out £1.5m in payments. Much was given to those already receiving council tax support, but the remainder is available for the local authority to distribute under their little-known discretionary powers.
The way in which local authorities allocate this money will vary and there is, in some cases, a reluctance to publicise the scheme for fear of opening the floodgates, so information and guidance can be almost impossible to find. A brief review of council websites bears out the inconsistencies, with some helpfully providing forms to complete for the discretionary relief and others making no mention of it at all. You will in most cases need to contact the local authority for further information, but even then council advisors are very often not aware of the procedures or details.
Local authorities are themselves under financial pressures and will look to protect their own tax revenues. This means that when making an application you will need to be able to demonstrate that every effort has been made to sell the home within the initial six-month window. This is likely to mean it being listed with an estate agent and that it is competitively priced. You should also continue to pay council tax on the property whilst an application is made. If successful, this can be reclaimed.
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