Dear All, Any help gratefully received, I could be in a bind here and have never heard of this happening before on any self-build. I need to know if there’s anything I can do to stop it.

I have been building a new house and, for various reasons (money, problems, amount of work we’ve done and size etc) its taken four years. I recently got a council tax notice, which I sent back saying that it was still under construction, didn’t have a working kitchen, no final certificates etc and that until that stage, and getting sign off from building regs/architect, that I couldn’t see we should be paying any tax as we cannot live in it.

A week or so later I got a letter from the revenue services dept of the council saying that they were serving me a completion notice stating that under ‘The provisions of Schedule 4A of the 1988 Local Govt Finance Act and Section 17 of the 1992 Local Govt finance Act enable a Billing Authority to serve a completion notice in respect of any new dwellings, or any dwellings which may be reasonably by expected to be completed within three months.’ It goes on to say that a copy has been sent to a listing officer at the valuation office and that if it remains vacant (unoccupied and unfurnished) the owner will be entitled to an one month grace period from date of completion and thereafter Council Tax empty property charge will be levied. It says if I have a problem with any of this I need to write to them within a month.

My problem is that it ‘could’ be done within the remaining time (3 months) but may not be as there are still structural elements that need doing (which are out of my control) as well as general living requirements needed for any house like running, connected, services, working kitchen etc. Without the structural element completed it would be unsafe (that;s what building regs stated, not myself, and that we couldn’t complete without it being done). How can they say it is reasonable to expect completion within three months and is this enforceable? Surely it is for the architect and building regs to say when a property is completed not just someone in finances at the council to impose an arbitrary date? They have not asked to, nor viewed the state of the property themselves so are, it seems, making their ‘reasonable’ judgement on the outside look from the front, which does look finished….the reality is it is not liveable…..just yet.

Help really appreciated. I don’t know what to do other than just writing to them to explain.

PW

Comments
  • H R

    HR
    Comment Preview
    Don’t know about the Councils legal ability to, in effect, insist that the property is complete for taxation purposes. Initially reading the part where you quote they say ‘any dwelling that may reasonably be expected to be completed’ could have two interpretations 1) it is their view that basically you should get a move on and they think three months is sufficient’ or 2) they think that, without their pressure to get a move on you will in normal circumstances have the works competed in that three months anyway’. You for your part, like many folks for various reasons may want or need to drag out the final completion certificate because normally you wouldn’t expect to pay Council tax until then. Ah but says the Council we need all the Revenue we can and this might be a way to get some and make sure we get it as soon as possible. Maybe this is linked to the changes since April 2013 on how Council Tax is determined. The changes were created during the last Labour Parliament, opposed by the then Conservative opposition but, surprise surprise came into force during this ConserativeLiberal coalition !. Now premises empty for 2 + yrs entitle the Council to add a 50% Council Tax surcharge, it is supposed to encourage more available houses for folks. Also 2nd house have this surcharge and I believe it is an offence to hide your 2nd homes status!.You can appeal, I have and won as I am doing serious renovations but might face the same issue next tax year. Even initial empty periods following a purchase seem to under threat to pay full council tax. Also empty properties have a 100% council tax bill and not even the single occupant discount.
    You ask "why?" It is perhaps easier to see why with Govt cuts on L/A budgets why you are being told to pay
    but "Can they do it?" sorry don’t if it is a legally enforceable demand.
    I can see why taxation demands are logically a seperate issue from building control and politics at all levels plays it part so perhaps your local MP or Councillor can answer.Please add info yourself to help us all when you find out more.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the input H, I will indeed add to this when I hear more. I hear everything you say and am obviously aware of the strains on local budgets but again my argument would be that if it isn’t liveable in you cannot be expected to pay tax. I have just done a ‘quick’ list of remaining jobs (many of which are repeated in each room), many of which are time-consuming ones and it stretches to five A4 pages. Can I really see this being done in the time….not so sure being realistic, especially as I am reliant on contractors for the major outstanding job.

    Anyway, anyone out there with any further information would be more than helpful.

    PW

  • H R

    Hi, your Q intrigued me and maybe, I stress maybe what I’ve found out might help.
    Land Law and rating is not my specialist subject and I don’t have current access to a law library, also law does change often by appeals and cases that take some time to filter through so here goes:
    As I suspected completion notices for rating purposes have no link and are totally different from completion notices issued by building control or NHB Certificates. They are based on what a rating authority thinks is the time a new build, or renovation will be completed and therefore reasonably likely to be habitable and by implication when they can get some cash in.
    I note what you say needs to be done but again as I suspected leaving some of the finishing details undone does not automatically defeat the notice you have been served.
    It seems the local authority will serve its notice as soon as they think they can once ‘completion’ as they deem it, not you, is there and a three month date as you mention is provided for in the regulations. Even if a building is completed, by their standards, and they have not made a move to serve a notice they can not back date it, the 3 months still applies.
    When the rating authority decides what amounts to ‘completion’ it seems that once the walls and roof are up and on,once internal walls / partitions and plastering is done, once the floors are laid even if the final screeding or whatever remains to be finished, and once services are laid on to the site, even if not connected up inside the property then ‘completion’ for rating purposes can be imposed.
    It seems even leaving the bathroom and kitchen unfinished doesn’t exempt you from the liability. So where does all this leave you ?
    Go through your list and if you think you can avoid the councils definition of ‘completion’ you have a right of appeal to them within 28 days so don’t delay.
    Always worth stressing the hardhip you would suffer if they insist on taxing you and it leaves you short of money as that doesn’t help anybody get onto the housing ladder or into a better house and their actions could be self defeating.
    If the council won’t back down you have a further right of appeal to a valuation tribunal.
    Sorry I don’t know if you have to pay any fees for the appeal process. I do hope this helps and again I stress land law is not my specialist subject so whilst happy to try and help you must satisfy yourself on the legal position.

  • Anonymous

    H,

    Thanks again for your comments. This is the first time I’ve checked back since last week. I now know where this is all coming from, although it does seem odd still as you don’t normally see councils doing this do you, or do you?! lol.

    Anyway, I wrote to them last week stating the main reasons why it may not be finished but, as you say, this may do nothing at all to deter them (indeed I have had no reply in a week). It does indeed seem self-defeating though because it would take a big chunk of extra money from my budget each month if I am still finishing it off, therefore taking longer and, as you say, that seems self-defeating to me. But I suppose they wont care as they will be getting their money. Sad state of affairs but what can one do. I will try getting in touch with a lawyer even so just to check on the position.

    Many thanks again for your advice, very much appreciated. Just shows how good these forums are. I thought I knew a fair amount about self-building but it shows that there’s always something new (or old!) to catch one out!

    KR

    PW

  • Anonymous

    H/All,

    Thought I would update this, just so you know what happened. I didn’t have to bother with the lawyer in the end. Having written to the council (basically just explaining where we are, being honest and saying that as soon as it’s ready we’ll be there) and stating that structural elements were still required before it was habitable I got a reply and they removed the notice!!!

    To say I’m happy is an understatement. The thing is that, in all likelihood, we’ll be there anyway by the time it comes around but, as anyone who’s done this will know, the added stress is not exactly welcome. So, to be fair to them, they were pretty amenable once it was explained. I really thought I was going to have a battle but it seems not. Thumbs up to them.

    Thanks for the advice H. All the best

    PW:)

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