High Court rules Council out of time to recover rates
In its recent decision in Brisbane City Council v Amos1, the High Court decided that Brisbane City Council was unable to recover outstanding rates and charges because it had commenced Court proceedings after 6 years. While the case involved the recovery of rates, charges and interest it is potentially relevant to the recovery of all statutory charges.
Mr Amos was the registered owner of rateable land. Council commenced Court proceedings in 2009 against Mr Amos to recover 12 years' worth of overdue and unpaid rates for the period 1999 to 2012 of approximately $494,000 plus interest of approximately $314,000.
The Court was asked to decide if Council was out of time to recover the unpaid rates because of the limitation period for starting Court proceedings.
Two potential limitation periods in the relevant law, the Limitations of Actions Act 1974 (Qld) applied. The first 12 year limitation period applies to actions to recover "money secured by a mortgage or other charge on a property". This covers debts created by statute and secured by a charge. This was the limitation period that Council argued applied.
The second 6 year limitation period applies to actions to recover money under an 'enactment'. Mr Amos argued that this period applied and that Council could not recover rates that were levied and owing more than 6 years before Council started its action.
For the purpose of the Court proceedings, it was agreed between the parties that the overdue rates and charges were both a charge on land and a personal claim.
The High Court decided that the 6 year limitation period applied and in doing so followed a 1899 UK Court of Appeal decision in Barnes v Glenton2. The Judges unanimously agreed that the recovery of rates was a personal claim to recover a sum of money secured by a charge and that both the 6 year and 12 year limitation period was capable of applying. However, where there was an overlap in limitation periods, the defendant, Mr Amos, was entitled to rely upon the shorter period. Council could not therefore recover that portion of the rates owing or interest for the period before 23 June 2003.
This decision confirms the 6 year limitation period for recovery of rates and charges and has potential ramifications for councils and other authorities seeking to recover other statutory charges.
1  HCA 27
2 1 QB 885
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