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Surrey Councils Hold £1.5 million of Council Tax Waiting To Be Refunded

Published on: 9 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 11 Apr, 2024

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

Councils in Surrey are holding nearly £1.5 million in overpaid tax that can be claimed back. Taxpayers who have moved to a different borough after paying their council tax are supposed to be sent a closing bill. If an account is in credit, overpayments should be refunded.

When this is not possible, for example if the council does not have a resident’s forwarding address, the overpaid cash can sit in a pot until a claim is made – or the resident returns to the borough.

In Surrey that figure, according to data released under Freedom on Information to Money Saving Expert, is a combined £1,493,722.12 for eight of the 11 councils including, the biggest single amount, over £300,000 in Guildford. The figures for the four not listed (Elmbridge, Tandridge and Epsom and Ewell) remain unclear.

The three most common reasons for overpayments are when someone moves out of their house and has already paid, changes to a property’s tax band, or when residents forget to cancel standing orders when they move.

Tax not claimed back can be written off by a council and used to balance the cost of bad debts, however Guildford Borough Council said it does reinstate the money if a resident comes forward to claim the credit.

GBC told the Local Reporting Democracy Service it has refunded 12,793 people on both closed and open accounts with a total value of £4.4 million, since April 2021. It says nearly a third of these were refunded through MyGuildford online accounts.

A spokesperson for GBC said: “It’s important that we are provided with a forwarding address so we can send closing bills or retrospective bill changes.

“If a refund is not claimed, the money will remain on the account until the resident claims it or becomes liable for council tax in our borough again.” The spokesperson added: “To be transparent, we roll over overpaid council tax every year. If other councils have already written off credits, their credit value will be reduced.”

Guildford council added that they don’t have a specific deadline for claiming overpaid council tax. But to avoid fraudulent claims, they ask residents to provide proof of the overpayment. The older the claim, the more proof is needed.

A spokesperson for Spelthorne Borough Council, which also holds more than £300k of refundable money, said: “Tax refunds occur for a number of reasons, for example if a resident has moved from the borough or they have paid a bill in advance and Spelthorne Borough Council proactively issues any council tax refunds which are due.

“Where accounts are in credits, statements are sent with refund application to the last known address, if we hold bank details refunds are refunded directly back to the bank account that they were paid from. Where accounts are constantly paying in credit, copy bills are sent to prompt a response from the payer to claim the overpayment back.

“Residents can keep track of their council tax bill by registering for the self-service customer portal online or call the team on 01784 451499.”

Elmbridge Borough Council, which did not respond to the FOI, said it refunds overpaid council tax if a resident’s account is in credit and does not owe any other amounts of tax.

People who move within the borough will usually have credits from their previous address transferred across, while those leaving the area can arrange a refund.

Unclaimed council tax is held by each local authority in Surrey, according to the Freedom of Information request by Money Saving Expert 

Local Authority  Refundable money Accounts
Guildford Borough Council £323,769.96 1,095
Spelthorne Borough Council £307,273.08 1,245
Mole Valley District Council £249,459.01 802
Reigate and Banstead Borough Council £218,883.91 765
Waverley Borough Council £157,452.49 566
Woking Borough Council £148,046.16 566
Surrey Heath Borough Council £83,060.34 293
Runnymede Borough Council £5,777.17 4

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