News item

Trading Standards council tax warning

As many households start to receive their annual council tax bills West Yorkshire Trading Standards have issued a warning concerning “Council Tax re-banding companies”. Over the past two years, Trading Standards have seen an increasing number of complaints concerning companies who, for an up front fee promise to reduce the householder’s council tax.
 
In reality customers have been left out of pocket and have struggled to get their money back where clearly the service offered has been misdescribed or not performed to an acceptable standard. Although there is nothing wrong with paying a company to undertake this work, in reality there is also nothing to stop a householder undertaking this themselves. All local authorities will have a process through which householders can make a re-banding application totally freeof charge.
 
Earlier this year West Yorkshire Trading Standards took action and prosecuted one such individual, Jack Darrell Henry, who at the time was trading under the company name Council Tax Review.
 
The prosecution was brought by West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service, who over the period of the investigation received a staggering 680 calls about the Huddersfield based business via the national Consumer Direct helpline. Council Tax Review was set up by Henry, also known as Darrell Rewston, in June 2009 and specialised in re-banding domestic properties which Henry claimed were paying too much council tax. Flyers and personalised mail shots promised householders rebates of thousands of pounds in return for an upfront fee of £165.
 
Henry’s victims, some of whom were in their 80s, found that in some cases he made no approach at all to the Valuation Office Agency (who set the council tax in England and Wales) or that his work was so poor itwas rejected immediately. In many cases there was simply no justification to challenge the banding. Customers who signed up and then changed their minds, making perfectly legal cancellations, found their cheques were cashed and no refunds made.
 
Jack Darrell Henry was sentenced at Bradford Crown Court to a jail term of 9 months suspended for 12 months, after he had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a series of offences involving unfair commercial practices. He was also ordered to serve 150 hours of unpaid community service and to pay full prosecution costs of £12,500. A further £455 compensation has to bepaid to victims in the case. 
 
Graham Hebblethwaite, Chief Officer of West Yorkshire Trading StandardsService, said: “West Yorkshire Trading Standards were inundated with complaints from dissatisfied customers of Council Tax Review allegingunfair business practices.

"Many had been promised thousands of pounds in council tax rebates which, along with requested refunds, never materialised. If people are concerned about their council tax banding then they should contact the local authority or thevaluation office. There is nothing to stop anyone from making a re-banding application, which you can do for free and you don’t have to use a company to help you do this.”
 
 
You can get consumer advice by contacting the new Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 0506.
 
 
Notes to editor:
For further information please contact David Lodge on 0113 393 9704