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County court does not have jurisdiction to entertain claims for overpaid council tax: Court of Appeal

The County Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain a claim for repayment of allegedly overpaid council tax, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

His Honour Judge Hellman sitting in the County Court at Central London had previously held that the Valuation Tribunal had exclusive jurisdiction over such claims.

The appellant, Mr Lone, contended that the County Court did have jurisdiction. He has been seeking £3,000 on the basis that he was not granted the single person discount.

A deputy district judge had found in his favour in February 2018, but HHJ Hellman set this aside in September 2018.

In Lone v London Borough of Hounslow [2019] EWCA Civ 2206 Lord Justice Arnold said the council’s analysis of the statutory scheme was correct, adding that it was “implicit that the jurisdiction of the Valuation Tribunal to determine the correct amount of council tax payable under section 16(1)(b) of the 1992 Act [the Local Government Finance Act 1992] is exclusive”.

It followed that the County Court had no jurisdiction over such issues under section 16 of the County Courts Act 1984 (as amended), he said.

Lord Justice Arnold also rejected Mr Lone’s alternative claim of unjust enrichment.

Lord Justice Underhill agreed with Arnold LJ. He said: “In short:

(1) The County Court did not have jurisdiction under section 16 of the 1984 Act to entertain Mr Lone's claim because an overpaid sum would only become "recoverable" by virtue of the council tax legislation either if the Council had decided, of its own motion or following a recalculation ordered by the Valuation Tribunal, that an adjustment should be made and he had requested repayment (i.e. as opposed to simply accepting a credit), or if repayment had, as an "ancillary" matter, been ordered by the Tribunal (though it appears that this is not normally done). That is the only route to recovery under the legislation itself.

(2) Nor does the County Court have jurisdiction under section 15, even if (which is in fact my strong provisional view) a claim in unjust enrichment can be treated in this context as being "founded on contract", because any such claim is displaced by the existence of the statutory scheme for repayment on the basis explained by Professor Burrows [in A Restatement of the English Law of Unjust Enrichment (OUP, 2013)].”

Lady Justice Asplin, agreeing, said that it was “perhaps unfortunate that the mechanism by which overpayment of council tax can be recovered is quite so complex and, at times, opaque”.

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