Former teachers Fergus Wilson and his wife, Judith, dubbed Britain’s buy-to-let “king and queen”, of Peens Lane, Boughton, Monchelsea, were ordered to pay council tax by Maidstone Magistrates’ Court.
[blockquote align=’right’]Council Tax Payments: “Landlords & Managing Agents should keep Councils Informed of all Tenancy Changes Immediately”- [/blockquote]
Two of Britain’s most controversial and arguably, biggest private residential landlords, Fergus and Judith Wilson, accumulated approximately 900 homes in Kent during and post the UK’s property boom.
They hit the headlines recently when they decided not to renew tenancies for around 200 of their housing benefit tenants, claiming that they preferred eastern European migrants who they said defaulted much less frequently than single mums on welfare. They said the decision was purely an economic one based on rent payment records.
More recently they were reputedly in negotiations with both Chinese and American wealth fund investors with a view to disposing of their total portfolio for a figure said to be in the region of £250 million. With around 50% of the portfolio’s value mortgaged, that would leave them around £125 million in pocket.
Judith Wilson was due to attend Maidstone Magistrates’ Court but failed to turn up after her 66 year old husband, Fergus Wilson, requested to move the date of the hearing, as he was filming for a BBC Panorama programme.
Mrs Wilson was found guilty on 10 counts of non-payment of council tax for homes which form part of their portfolio, and fined a total of £3,848 for the nine properties involved.
The court was told that Maidstone Borough Council had contacted Mrs Wilson on a number of occasions but that Mr Wilson had said it was not their responsibility to pay.
Commenting on the matter of council tax payments on rental properties, Tom Entwistle of LandlordZONE said:
Landlords and managing agents should keep councils informed of all tenancy changes immediately.
This will allow the council to make proper calculations on apportionments between landlords and tenants, send out correct bills, and award any discounts or exemptions due promptly. Councils will not usually register tenants for a retrospective period.
It’s all about communication and following the rules, things should never get to this stage when dealing with council tax liabilities.
Councils need to know, ideally in writing: all changes in tenancy start and end dates; full names of each tenant and previous and forwarding addresses; contact telephone numbers landlord and tenant; and whether the property is rented furnished or unfurnished. Many of the councils now have forms on their websites for landlords and agents to keep the council informed about their tenancies.
Landlords are liable to a fine if the required information is not provided within 21 days of the request. In my experience as a landlord it never pays to get into legal fights with councils unless you know you are on very firm ground.
When a property becomes vacant, council tax liability reverts back to the landlord. How much the landlord pays will depend on the status of the property. Most councils will give a discount, for example 25%, if the property is left furnished between tenancies, until the next tenant moves in.
When the property is left unfurnished between tenancies, landlords may qualify for a 100% discount for a maximum of six months, but this does vary between councils and some cash strapped councils are resisting giving these discounts.
In a property rented on a multi-occupation basis the landlord will be liable for the council tax which will be paid on behalf of all the tenants, unless they are all full time students, in which case they are exempt.
Where a property is unfurnished and uninhabitable, and requires major structural work to make it habitable, landlords may qualify for an exemption for up to one year. This will usually require an inspection by the council concerned. Don’t delay in claiming as this exemption will not normally be back-dated.
If a tenant leaves owning council tax, providing the landlord has correctly informed the council at the start of the tenancy, the tenant is liable for council tax. Should they fall into arrears during the tenancy, any debt will remain in their name and not stay with the property or be transferred to the landlord, providing the council is informed promptly when the tenancy starts and ends.
With an assured shorthold tenancy (AST), if a tenant does not occupy the property during the tenancy term as their main residence then the tenancy technically is no longer an AST (it’s a common law tenancy) and the council tax liability falls back on the landlord. It’s then up to the landlord to claim it back from their tenant.