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A council's refusal to accept that it should exercise its discretionary power and consider a request from an indivi...
A council's refusal to accept that it should exercise its discretionary power and consider a request from an individual for a discount on their council tax has been criticised by local government ombudsman Anne Seex.

In her report issued today against Redcar and Cleveland BC, Ms Seex found that the council failed to recognise this and fettered its discretion to reduce an individual's liability by having a 'blanket policy' that it would never allow a reduction.

The council decided in 2004 that all empty homes in its area should pay the maximum 90 per cent of council tax. 'Mr and Mrs Weaver' (real names not used for legal reasons) had bought a bungalow in the area shortly before the council's decision and renovated it but, after experiencing hostility from people in the area, they never moved in. When they received the bill for 90 per cent of the council tax Mrs Weaver wrote to explain her circumstances and ask for a reduction in council tax. The council refused, saying that the decision to set the empty policy discount at 10 per cent had been set at policy level and does not allow for any individual discretion.

'In the course of my investigation of Mrs Weaver's complaint the council has maintained that it does not have to consider individual requests for reductions,' said Ms Seex. 'Given the case law and legal principles about the duty of public authorities not to fetter their exercise of discretion, I find the council's stance to be inexplicable and, clearly, maladministration.'

The ombudsman concluded that the council must consider and reach a decision on Mrs Weaver's request and must establish internal arrangements for how such requests will be considered and decided in the future. She added that the council was free to reach any decision that it considers fit on any request, provided that it reaches such a decision properly.

Copy of report on investigation 05/C/03367 attached.

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