A couple from Billingshurst is facing two council tax bills totalling around £3,700 even though their home is unfit to live in while being renovated.
Claire and John Fraher, of High Street, Billingshurst, are living in a temporary caravan in their garden while renovating their a cottage at the same address, which has been empty for eight years.
The couple, who have three children, say Horsham District Council gave them a 12-month exemption for the house from the date they bought it last year, but the house is still unhabitable, so they did not expect to receive a £2,200 bill demanding payment.
They have been paying council tax on the caravan while the work is being carried out.
Mrs Fraher said: “We have been told that the property only has one year’s exemption which we had from the date we purchased it. When we moved into the caravan we started paying tax on that.
“We now have a bill of about £2,200 for the house on top of the £1,600 we already have for the caravan.
“[The caravan] is all within the grounds. It goes into the fuse box in the house. It’s basically to give us somewhere to live. The house is unhabitable. It was literally falling down, so it’s in everybody’s interests to improve it.”
She said they were not warned about the bill by the district council even though the couple did not expect the work to be finished within a year.
She continued: “We were very frank with the council when we had planning permission. Because the cottage is in such a poor state it’s not mortgageable. We always knew it would be a long process.
“We told the council and especially having permission from the planning department to put the caravan, we did not expect to have these issues.#
“Taylor Wimpey owned it before us and I’ve enquired if they were required to pay it, but heard nothing.”
Mr and Mrs Fraher say they have been told by HDC that they could have further exemption on the property, but they would have to move in for six months and then move out.
Added to their problems was a letter related to HDC’s initiative to get empty homes back on the market. Through this scheme the council have been working to take possession of such homes when the owners seem unwilling to improve them.
Mrs Fraher said: “The letter was on headed paper from the district council, but when I rang it was Brighton and Hove.
“I called HDC and they said an inspector came and visited the property in December. My husband nor I didn’t meet the inspector so he couldn’t enter the property.
“Apparently he looked at how the work was progressing. We’ve been told he thought it was in no better state than it was a year before. Despite that they still charged us.”
A spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: “Horsham District Council is reviewing the case and has been speaking with Mr and Mrs Fraher.”
As the County Times went to press, Mrs Fraher said after months of trying to arrange an inspection themselves, hours after the newspaper contacted HDC on Friday, an inspector ‘miraculously’ called to arrange a visit for Monday. “She said was not within her power to do anything and she had no idea why she was there. It was pointless,” Mrs Fraher said.
The couple have also received a court summons depite paying £100.