Council Tax, Local Gov Finance Act or Housing Act - which takes precedence?

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    Council Tax, Local Gov Finance Act or Housing Act - which takes precedence?

    Hi Everyone,

    I'm seeking advice on when a landlord becomes liable for Council Tax.

    Situation: The tenant is Deceased, which means the tenancy continues until the landlord or persons acting with legal responsibility for the Deceased's Estate serve notice to surrender the tenancy.

    The Deceased's Estate is now messy and no one has acted to quit the tenancy. So, we have had to take legal steps to do so, and have therefore not had the right to enter, reuse or repossess the property until doing so.

    The local authority now wish to make us liable for the Council Tax, even though there are exemptions they can grant based on the death of an owner or tenant. Their argument is that someone (unknown) has returned the keys to the property via a method (unknown) and informed the Council.

    Our argument is that returning keys doesn't end a tenancy.

    They have also stated that the former tenant doesn't have a 'material interest' in the property (Quoting the Local Gov Finance Act), and so the liability passes to us as owners as there was no one in succession for the tenancy. They seem to ignore the fact that the tenancy was ongoing, preferring instead to rely on the information that keys have been returned, which they cannot verify, and which we believe is irrelevant even if true, though we have no knowledge of this taking place.

    Also, they seem to believe that a statutory periodic tenancy simply stops when someone returns keys, which we don't believe is the case. The tenant was receiving Housing Benefit 4-weekly, so the least notice period we believe would be the same, not when someone allegedly returns keys. Someone still has to serve a notice to the other party to say they wish the tenancy to cease, and for that to be accepted.

    Having provided them with evidence of our legal actions to end the tenancy, and referred them to the Housing Act which states that tenancies pass to the Estate of the Deceased, they still want us to pay or go to a tribunal.

    Our interpretation is that the Housing Act would take precedence over the Local Government Financing Act.

    Does anyone have experience of this, or proceeding with a tribunal?

    Certainly feels that trying to do the right thing and be compliant with the law isn't supported in many of the systems we have to navigate, especially when a tenant dies and the representatives / family decide not to communicate or cooperate.

    Many thanks.

    It's not a question of which act has precedent in this case, because who has responsibility for the council tax is determined by the Local Government Finance Act.

    My interpretation is that you are now liable, not depending on whether the tenancy has ended or not (which I think is a red herring), but because the deceased no longer qualifies as someone who is liable for council tax.

    There are two characteristics (that are relevant here) that would make the tenant liable for council tax, that "he is such a resident [i.e. he is a resident of the dwelling] and has a contractual licence to occupy the whole or any part of the dwelling".
    The deceased is no longer a resident of any dwelling and therefore fails the test.

    The estate of the deceased is a legal not an actual person and doesn't "reside" anywhere (like a company), so even though they have the necessary contractual licence (from the sound of it), they don't qualify either.

    Which means that liability falls to the next person in the sequence, which is the owner.

    There will be precedents for this, and I don't have any knowledge of them.
    Normally the liability for rent means that the estate is keen to surrender the tenancy, which sounds like your best route forward.
    When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
    Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).


      As above, you are liable to pay the council. If the tenancy is ongoing then (depending on your contract) you can claim the tax from the estate as it is still owed.

      However what possible reason might the estate have to not want to end the tenancy (but pretend to the council that they have). If the Council regard the tenancy as ended (in writing) then what downside do you see to simply taking occupancy. The estate will sue you for illegal eviction???

      Something doesn't add up 100%.


        Actually, on rereading the OP's post, it's much simpler than I thought.
        If the tenancy is a statutory periodic tenancy, that's not a sufficient interest in the property full stop.

        It needs to be a lease of at least six months to have a material interest in the property and a statutory periodic tenancy won't meet that threshold if it's a monthly periodic tenancy.
        So he is subject to a different test than the one I quoted.
        He would be liable if "he is such a resident [i.e. he is a resident of the dwelling] and has a leasehold interest in the whole or any part of the dwelling which is not inferior to another such interest held by another such resident".
        And, again it fails on the lack of residence.
        When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
        Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).


          Thanks so much for your fast reply. From what you have said, it sounds like there isn't much room for movement.

          Sadly, in this case, the Estate is uncommunicative and believes that by not saying anything, or acting, that the tenancy just stops. We are unfortunately unable to get any response so are having to take legal steps to end the tenancy.

          The local authority does have exemption codes for different situations that they can choose to apply. One is upon death of the person resident, whether they are the owner or the tenant. We asked them to consider this exemption.

          Their argument for not doing so seems to rest on the fact that because someone unknown has said they have returned some keys to the property (not to us) the tenancy has ceased. They also imply that this is considered even more so as it was a rolling tenancy.

          We have asked them for information regarding that action (who, when, where, how, which keys were returned), and have provided evidence of all the legal actions we have taken to end the tenancy, and a date by which a legal end date was determined. However, that isn't seen as evidence, only this reported returning of the keys, which doesn't ordinarily end a tenancy as far as we know.

          We have no option but to wait and see if they respond to our questions. However, it really does feel unfair that in these situations, the landlords are left with all responsibilities and costs when the other party chooses not to act (especially if you have to go to Court to end a tenancy due to inaction by an Estate),

          Do you have any experience with proceeding to appeal via tribunal? I imagine many folks may just take the financial hit in order to preserve their time and sanity!

          Thanks again for your time.


            Honestly if you know that this is the situation - the only tenant is dead - I would thank them for returning the keys, and move in. Send a bill to the estate for rent up to the date the keys were returned.

            It is necessary to be careful, but In think you are making too much of this.

            And pay the Council tax.


              Have you actually spoken with the Council or just emailed? I had a very aggressive Council to deal with re a death (not the same situation as yours); the underlings are usually paper pushers and in my case made a lot of mistakes - never in my favour of course. I rang and spoke to Head of Dept (they don't like receiving complaints) and ultimately got a very different attitude and eventual outcome. I appreciate you will want a paper trail, but sometimes the 'human touch' can be helpful.


                What does the ast say? Often they say T is responsible for council tax and utilities for the duration of the tenancy. And if it does I'm not sure if there's any material difference between a T living somewhere else or dying (except obviously if dead it's the estate that's liable).


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