Crucial Ministry of Justice Guidance about the enforcement of council tax in vulnerable situations omitted from Haringey Cabinet papers for 14th November meeting.

11 November 2017

To the Leader Haringey Council 

Cabinet Meeeting, Tuesday, 14th November, 2017,

Hardship is now even worse than it was in April 2013 when Haringey started taxing social security

I have already sent you advance notice of what I will be saying to the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and followed that up with the details which there is no time to include in the three minutes i am allowed to speak. They are both available on the tap website. 
I have searched the ​243 pages supporting item 9 of your agenda, 2018/19 COUNCIL TAX REDUCTION SCHEME (PAGES 33 - 276), and can find no reference to; 
​1,My objection to your 2017/18 accounts ​which asks the external auditor to audit the court costs or his letter to me of the 26th July which states that "I have had an initial discussion with the Council’s Revenues Team and it has come to light that the information that you were provided with regarding the number of summonses issued in 2016/17 was incorrect.  It is correct that the number issued in 2015/16 was 19,855 but the number issued in 2016/17 was 21,881. The figure previously provided to you as 27,270 included joint-payers rather than the number of summonses and the 2015/16 and 2016/17 were not provided on the same basis. ​"​ The figure of 19,855 summons issued in 2015/16 remains an issue because I have another FOI answer stating specifically that 23,702 summons were issued in 2015/16.  I informed the Magistrates about this incorrect information they had been given by the council but at the time the council's representative had been briefed to tell them I was wrong. 
£10 or £20 pounds added to the costs by a low number of summons or liability orders in the calculaions really matters when you have a very low or no income to buy food due to a benefit sanction, zero hours contract or are moved on the universal credit. 
2. ​The council's responsibilities under The Bailiffs and Enforcement Agents National Standards issued by the Ministry of Justice ​Taking Control of Goods: National StandardsApril 2014 ​first issued in 1991. ​. I am particularly concerned that there is no inclusion of  section 70-78, Vulnerable Situations, (shown below) or of the important "agreed procedures" referred to in section 70.   
​I note from the council papers that you bill £6.5 million a year in council tax from social security payments made to the poorest Haringey tenants. May I remind you about the observation of the Supreme Court in Moseley v Haringey. 
"Those whom Haringey was primarily consulting were the most economically disadvantaged of its residents. Their income was already at a basic level and the effect of Haringey’s proposed scheme would be to reduce it even below that level and thus in all likelihood to cause real hardship, while sparing its more prosperous residents from making any contribution to the shortfall in government funding." 
It is now causing real hardship and more because their incomes are now well below basic level. Hardship is now much worse than it was in April 2013 when Haringey started taxing social security
With best wishes, 

Taking Control of Goods: National Standards

April 2014

Vulnerable situations 
70. Enforcement agents/agencies and creditors must recognise that they each have a role in ensuring that the vulnerable and socially excluded are protected and that the recovery process includes procedures agreed between the agent/agency and creditor about how such situations should be dealt with. The appropriate use of discretion is essential in every case and no amount of guidance could cover every situation. Therefore the agent has a duty to contact the creditor and report the circumstances in situations where there is evidence of a potential cause for concern. 
71. If necessary, the enforcement agent will advise the creditor if further action is appropriate. The exercise of appropriate discretion is needed, not only to protect the debtor, but also the enforcement agent who should avoid taking action which could lead to accusations of inappropriate behaviour. 
72. Enforcement agents must withdraw from domestic premises if the only person present is, or appears to be, under the age of 16 or is deemed to be vulnerable by the enforcement agent; they can ask when the debtor will be home - if appropriate. 
73. Enforcement agents must withdraw without making enquiries if the only persons present are children who appear to be under the age of 12. 
74. A debtor may be considered vulnerable if, for reasons of age, health or disability they are unable to safeguard their personal welfare or the personal welfare of other members of the household. 
75. The enforcement agent must be sure that the debtor or the person to whom they are entering into a controlled goods agreement understands the agreement and the consequences if the agreement is not complied with. 
76. Enforcement agents should be aware that vulnerability may not be immediately obvious. 
77. Some groups who might be vulnerable are listed below. However, this list is not exhaustive. Care should be taken to assess each situation on a case by case basis.  the elderly;  people with a disability;  the seriously ill;  the recently bereaved;  single parent families;  pregnant women;  unemployed people; and,  those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English. 
78. Wherever possible, enforcement agents should have arrangements in place for rapidly accessing interpretation services (including British Sign Language), when these are needed, and provide on request information in large print or in Braille for debtors with impaired sight.   




from the Reverend Paul Nicolson