Council tax must be paid on the second home in Durham in which Dominic Cummings and his family stayed during the lockdown, a government agency has ruled.
But the Valuation Agency Office (VAO) decided not to backdate thousands of pounds in unpaid council taxes on the property since it was built on his parents North Lodge estate in 2002 without permission.
The issue was referred to the VAO in June after Durham county council found there had been historic breaches of planning building control regulation during the construction of the property and the conversion of another into two homes. At the time the council said it could not take enforcement action against the family because of a time limit on such measures.
The council has now confirmed that after the VAO’s ruling, the Cummings family will, from this month, have to pay three separate council tax bills for the homes at North Lodge, instead of the one bill the family has been paying until now.
The two extra bills relate to a converted home occupied by Cummings’ sister, and the separate home that Cummings occupied during lockdown.
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Despite guidance specifically banning the use of second homes during the lockdown, the Guardian and Daily Mirror revealed that Cummings and his family travelled to the Durham property at the height of the lockdown. He made the 260 mile trip after his wife became sick with suspected coronavirus on 27 March, a day before he also became ill.
In his rose garden statement about the trip he described the property as “an isolated cottage on my father’s farm”, and did not mention that as co-owner of the property it was also his second home. He insisted he had done nothing wrong and that the rules allowed such arrangements to look after a child in exceptional circumstances.
The VAO refuses to comment on individual cases. But its decision not to backdate council tax has infuriated some Durham councillors. Speaking to the Northern Echo, John Shuttleworth, an independent councillor, said: “If it was anybody else, they would be getting charged and it would be backdated, or they would be getting taken to court.
“It just proves there is two sets of rules, one for them and another for everyone else. It is not right.”
In a message to the Guardian, the Liberal Democrat councillor Liz Brown said: “Words fail me. It appears once again there is one law for the governments’ cronies and another for ordinary people. I’m fairly sure that you or I wouldn’t be given an amnesty over back council tax.
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“Quite apart from that, council tax is used in a great many ways to benefit the whole county. By making this decision, in a way DCC is penalising all the residents of the county.”
John Hewitt, the council’s director of resources, said: “The current single assessment [for council tax on North Lodge] will be replaced with three entries in the rating list going forward.
“These changes will be implemented with effect from 4 October 2020, which is the date we have been instructed to apply the changes from. The day which the rating list is to be amended is a matter for the Valuation Office Agency.”