LGA warns of council tax fraud spate

10 Jun 19

Local authorities have warned of a “new wave” of council tax scams offering bogus refunds or threatening fines.

Taxpayers have been hit by texts, emails and phone calls offering to claim refunds for overpayments on their behalf and demanding payment for arrears, claims the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales.

Scammers have also tried to convince residents their property is in the wrong council tax band and offered to claim refunds for a fee - even though band reassessments are available for free. Fees of £150 at a time have been demanded.

The fraudsters claim to represent local councils or the Valuation Office Agency and some use government branding and phishing links.

Scams have been reported by councils from Cumbria to Devon. A selection of reports revealed no consistent format, but branding and websites imitating the GOV.UK style were a common gambit.

Simon Blackburn of the LGA urged anyone who receives a suspected scam to report it to their local council.

“Most fraud is preventable if individuals and businesses follow simple advice, but victims shouldn’t suffer in silence or feel embarrassed. By reporting a scam, people can help someone else avoid being a victim.”

“Councils will never phone, text or email residents to ask for a payment to release a council tax refund or ask for personal bank details.

Fraud is now the most common type of crime yet only 5% of scams are believed to be reported, the LGA added.

UK citizens were defrauded to the tune of £6.8bn in 2017, according to figures from Experian and the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Counter Fraud Studies, of which mass marketing fraud such as unsolicited calls amounted to £4.5bn. The total marked a significant decrease on 2016’s figure of £9.7bn.

A VOA spokesperson said: “We are taking action against these fraudsters but people should be vigilant. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. We encourage anyone with suspicions to forward details to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk.”

CIPFA revealed the number of fraud cases prevented or detected by local authorities increased in 2017-18, remaining a “major financial threat” to councils, in its annual fraud tracker, published in October last year. 

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