A County Durham man who paid no council tax for nine years has been convicted following an investigation which found he had £98,000 in a savings account.
The court heard that Taylor, who has now repaid the £9,106 he owed, submitted a claim for a council tax reduction in July 2013.
At the time of his claim, he said he wasn’t working and was claiming Employment and Support Allowance. His claim was granted and his circumstances meant he was exempted from paying any council tax at all.
However, in April last year, officers from the council’s corporate fraud team started an investigation after becoming aware that Taylor was working and had not declared his income. HMRC records showed Taylor had been working as a self-employed bricklayer and had submitted tax returns showing annual net profits for seven consecutive years from 2014.
A check of his finances then revealed Taylor held £98,000 of undeclared savings in one bank account – anyone with savings in excess of £16,000 is ineligible to claim a council tax reduction. When interviewed under caution in November, Taylor told officers he was unsure of the date he returned to work.
He said he didn’t read the benefit awards letters he’d been sent by the council and assumed they were in relation to his single person discount. He said he doesn’t check his bank account so didn’t realise he wasn’t paying council tax and assumed his council tax balance was zero as he thought he paid by Direct Debit.
Taylor was convicted of two offences in relation to his failure to notify the council of changes in his circumstances, namely his receipt of income and his significant savings. He was given a nine month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £735 in costs, as well as a £15 victim surcharge.
In mitigation, he said this has all been unintentional and that he’s paid back the sum he claimed in full.
Tracy Henderson, Durham County Council’s chief internal auditor and corporate fraud manager, said: “Our council tax reduction scheme is there to support people on low incomes, whether they are in work, out of work, or retired. Our teams are always happy to give help and advice on all aspects of the eligibility criteria and claim process.
“But like any other benefit, people in receipt of support also have a responsibility to let us know if they have a change in their financial circumstances. If their circumstances have improved, their benefit may be reduced or they may no longer be eligible for it. If they have worsened, they may actually be entitled to more help and we will do whatever we can to support them.
“The charges brought in this case arose from the defendant’s failure to notify us of changes in income and savings, both of which would have prevented him from receiving any further discounts. As a result, the defendant paid no council tax for nine years and benefited from more than £9,000 worth of council tax reductions during that time.
“Of course, we have a duty to take action when cases like this are identified.”
For full details of the council’s council tax reduction scheme, visit www.durham.gov.uk/counciltaxreduction, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03000 260000.
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