Freeman on the Land and challenges to the legality of council tax
We have seen an increase in the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests received asking for information relating to this topic. We would like to provide information which clarifies our position.
We understand that the Freedom on the Land movement and similar groups commonly believe that people are only bound by the contracts and laws they have consented to. However, contract law and alleged rights under common law are not the same as legislation relating to the administration and collection of council tax.
You do not have a choice as to whether you are liable for council tax. Being a 'freeman' does not exempt anyone from paying council tax.
In the UK, liability for council tax is determined by the Local Government Finance Act 1992. This statute, created by a democratically elected Parliament of the United Kingdom and which has received the assent of the Crown and subsequent statutory regulations, sets out a local authority's rights to demand council tax to fund services and who is liable to pay.
Your liability for council tax is not dependent on, and does not require, your consent or the existence of a contractual relationship with the council. Any such assertion to the contrary is incorrect and there is no legal basis upon which to make this argument. Anyone who withholds payment will have enforcement action taken against them.
In extreme cases, this could even lead to a prison sentence. In the Manchester Magistrates' Court vs McKenzie (2015) case, an individual who attempted to use similar 'Freeman on the Land' defences in court ended up in prison for 40 days.
If you have any concerns over the charging of council tax, please seek independent legal advice. Please do not rely on internet sources, hearsay or forum statements which may be incorrect or misleading.
The provision of local government and its functions are contained within the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended) (legislation.gov.uk website).
The legislation that covers council tax is freely available from the Government Legislation website, including:
- Local Government Finance Act 1992 (legislation.gov.uk website)
- The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 (legislation.gov.uk website)
- The Council Tax (Demand Notices) (England) Regulations 2011 (legislation.gov.uk website)
Liability for council tax is determined in accordance with the statutory legislation and liability for this is confirmed by the council tax demand notice issued each year.
Some residents have asked whether Acts and Statutes (opens Parliament website) are an obligation on them, and about the difference between a Statute and Law and other similar questions regarding legal matters, often stating they have not expressly or impliedly consented to the liability.
Acts of Parliament are Statutes which set out the law. If you have questions regarding other Acts of Parliament or laws, you should seek the advice of a legal professional, not the council.
Sometimes people are convinced that using an archaic law means they don't have to pay council tax. There are many misleading articles and templates on the internet regarding the legality of council tax, and anyone relying on these should exercise caution and seek proper legal advice before using them as a defence against council tax liability based on contract, consent and common law.
We do our best to answer all relevant enquiries about council tax. However, we reserve the right to refuse to respond to length enquiries that focus on hypothetical arguments that:
- Have no legal basis
- Ask for a personal opinion
- Ask for information that does not fall within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)
Such requests place a burden on our limited resources at the expense of other taxpayers. Please note this also includes letters, emails and notices served on our Chief Executive.
Where appropriate, exemptions permitted under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) will be applied and an appropriate refusal notice issued.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
The council has a responsibility to bill and collect council tax, but this does not mean it introduces a fiduciary relationship.
You can find information about Peterborough City Council on our about the council page.
Council tax is deemed outside the scope of VAT and we will therefore not provide a VAT invoice. However, our VAT number is GB121533513.
Peterborough City Council is a local authority within the public sector and therefore does not have a company number.
Some residents consider that council tax is a contract and requires a legal contract and signatures indicating an agreement. Council Tax was created by statute and a contract is not required. Therefore, any reference to the Companies Act, Contracts Act, Bills of Exchange Act or other Acts regarding companies or contracts is irrelevant.
The hierarchy of who is considered to be the liable party is contained in the Local Government Finance Act 1992 c14 Part 1, Chapter 1, Sections 6 -9. Individual agreement of this is not necessary.
The issue of a Council Tax Demand Notice (the bill) creates the debt. A signature or agreement from a resident is not necessary for council tax, it is a tax, not a contract.
Legislation is law and you can find it on the legislation.gov.uk website.
Relevant legislation includes:
- The Local Government Finance Act 1992
- The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992
Please see The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992.
There is no contract for council tax.
A signature is not necessary for the billing of council tax and no wet ink signature is mandatory on a court summons either. Previous case law has clarified that the use of a rubber stamp or electronic signature are both valid for the purpose of the court signing a summons.
You can find information in our Statement of Accounts on our finances page.
Being a Freeman on the Land does not mean someone can choose which laws they adhere to and which to ignore.
In order to process personal data, the UK GDPR requires the council to identify a lawful basis for processing. Consent of the data subject is one such lawful basis however it is not the only one. Article 6 of the UK GDPR refers to the six lawful bases and requires that one is set as the basis for processing. The council has identified our lawful basis in this matter as Article 6 (1) (e) which is “processing is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller”. This in essence requires the processing to have a basis in law. In this instance, the basis is in found in legislation like Local Government Finance Act 1992, The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 and The Council Tax (Demand Notices) (England) Regulations 2011
Further council tax information
If you receive a summons
You have the right to appear before the magistrates (justices) and provide evidence as to why the court should not grant a liability order. The valid defences are:
- The amount has not been demanded in accordance with the regulations
- Bills have been issued too late
- Instalments have not been calculated in accordance with the regulations
- The amount has been paid or
- He or she is not the person named on the summons
- The level of charge is not in accordance with the sum set by the council
If a liability order has been granted
Once a liability order has been granted and the magistrates have made an order for costs, the costs will be added to your account and the debt will be enforced.
It should be noted that the magistrates are obliged to award ‘reasonable costs’. The level of costs will therefore be linked to the amount of time and effort the council has had to incur in making the application. If this includes large volumes of correspondence and requests for information under the auspices of a Freeman on the Land ‘defence’, then it is likely that this will cause the costs applied for to be higher in these individual cases.
The enforcement actions which can be used are:
- Issue an attachment of earning order
- Request the Department of Work and Pensions to take deductions from relevant benefits paid
- Use enforcement agents
- Apply for a charging order
- Commence bankruptcy proceedings
- Apply to the magistrate’s court for a warrant with a view to committing you to prison
If you consider that the liability order was not obtained within the law, you have the right to appeal the order by way of judicial review in the High Court. This would be something you would need to arrange independently of the council at your own cost.