Money Help Desk: Upset and angered by council tax demands for dead father's home

I AM writing to express my disappointment at the conduct of North Lanarkshire Council. My father passed away over a year ago. He lived alone, and his property lay entirely vacant ever since.

However, completely out of the blue, last week North Lanarkshire sent us a bill of 822.74 for council tax for this property. The letter threatens a summary warrant for the recovery of the money unless we pay within seven days and also threatens that the amount payable will go up by 10 per cent.

We are absolutely outraged. North Lanarkshire Council are still attempting to charge council tax to this man even though he is now dead. The house has been entirely vacant since my father died. My father was a proud hard-working man, worked and paid taxes since he was 15 and resided in North Lanarkshire all his life. He will be turning in his grave.

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At this traumatic time, it is deeply upsetting to be treated like this. Their actions have brought a lot of pain and anguish to our family – and from an organisation, funded by hard-working taxpayers like my father, whose mission statement is to "put service and people first".

CQ, Wishaw

Teresa Hunter writes: We are sorry to hear about your distress, which is understandable when a bill like this arrives out of the blue. But you are not alone. Council tax can be a minefield for families attempting to unravel a deceased relative's estate, particularly in the current climate where property may not sell easily.

Essentially, when an owner occupier dies you should notify the council. The property is then exempt from council tax until six months after their affairs are wound up by grant of confirmation.

However, if any council tax was outstanding before their death, or any accrues subsequent to the exempt period of grace, then a bill may arise which is claimed against the estate. There is a 10 per cent reduction if it can be shown that the property was empty. It seems that this may have been the situation in this case.

If there is no money available in the estate then the claim is not pursued. Alternatively, the council should allow reasonable arrangements for the sum outstanding to be paid over an agreed period.

We asked North Lanarkshire Council for an explanation of what had happened where your father was concerned. This is its response: "Where a council tax payer dies, any unpaid tax or other outstanding liabilities are due to be met from the proceeds of the deceased person's estate.

"It is entirely appropriate, indeed desirable, that we make every effort to recover public funds due to the council from the proceeds of deceased estates.

"If it can be established that the deceased person has no estate from which we can recover any outstanding amounts, then recovery is no longer appropriate.

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"The deceased person's family can apply for an exemption on any payments due until six months after all matters relating to the estate are resolved. In this case, we have been in correspondence with the family's solicitors since May 2008 and an exemption was in place until June 2009.

"We then issued the council tax bills due on the property for 2008/09 and 2009/10 to the solicitors but have received no correspondence or payment relating to these. Therefore, reminders have been issued regarding the outstanding payment. We are happy to make an agreement on how the payment is made."