The things they don't tell you about council tax enforcement.

22 May 2013

The things they don't tell you about council tax enforcement. 

The government is creating unmanageable debt and hunger made worse by councils deciding to tax benefits with the council tax.

Below is a brief about the council tax procedures  in order to help people on benefit who now have to pay a % of the council tax.

I am using Haringey as an example but the enforcement law is the same throughout England and  Wales; however the procedures for applying for discretionary payments will vary from council to council as will the % of council tax being charged to benefit claimants. The discretionary payments also apply to those councils who have kept the 100% council tax benefit when claimants run into arrears if a good case is given.

I am suggesting everyone should apply for a discretionary payment who is now being charged a % of council tax against benefits. There are 26,000 in the Borough of Haringey.

That is because paying the tax will be impossible for most benefit claimants. Benefit incomes have been disconnected from the escalating prices of food, fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities and housing benefit has been disconnected from the rising level of rents charged to many people.

The government is creating hunger and unmanageable debt made worse by Haringey Councils charging 20% of the council tax. Taxing benefits is asking for trouble.

For example all adults receiving £71.70 a week adult unemployment benefit should apply for a council tax discretionary payment because it is 60% of the government poverty threshold and 42% of the Joseph Rowntree Minimum income standard and it was impossible to pay the tax without using the benefits needed for children, which are added to the £71.70. That was before rent now has to be paid from the same income due to the three housing benefit caps.

Everyone who has been sanctioned should definitely apply,

Good wishes,

Paul

PS. Taxing benefits means giving with one hand and taking with the other, doubling the cost of administration and adding the costs of enforcement. A policy wich could only have been invented at the mad hatters tea party* known as the DWP.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” said the Mad Hatter in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

*Obviously related to the Republican faction known as the "tea party" in the US

COUNCIL TAX MEMO FOR BENEFIT CLAIMANTS AND THEIR SUPPORTERS. 

DISCRETIONARY PAYMENTS.

Benefit claimants who are expected by Haringey Council to pay 20% of the council tax should apply for a discretionary payment to get it written off. Haringey Council has one form for which covers both housing and council tax discretionary payments; they are available at council offices and at; http://www.haringey.gov.uk/781.27_blt_dhp_leaflet_hrngy_benefits_web_- feb_13.pdf.pdf.  Applications must be made on the form. The forms are in English and no other language. It should include a statement of income & expenditure – including caps, and total debts, a doctor’s letter and other relevant facts.

Council’s do not volunteer the information that these payments exist. Applications can be made anytime during the following procedures. Always ensure that the council, the court and the bailiffs are aware of Page 9 of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents covering VULNERABLE SITUATIONS which follows this brief.

If you fail then consider appealing to the Valuation Tribunal within 2 months of the decision; they will sit when needed probably in a hotel (often miles from the claimant) http://www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk/A1Form.aspx.

The vital facts to give the Tribunal, the Council and the court at every stage in the proceedings must show evidence of financial hardship; evidence of income expenditure and debts. Bedroom tax, HB caps and £500 overall benefit cap are relevant.  Doctor’s letters are vital if the claimant is ill or disabled.

THE LIABILITY ORDER

If the claimant still cannot pay the council will apply to the magistrates for a liability order, which adds, say £70, to the arrears. It is vital to go to the court for that when you get the summons. There will be a council official outside ready to make a deal to pay the arrears off at so much a week or month.

THE ENFORCEMENT

It is vital at all stages to tell the council your circumstances or change of circumstances. Failure to notify a change of circumstances within 21 days can result in a financial penalty. If you break the deal, or if you do not go to court and make one, then the liability order granted by the magistrates allows the council to take one or more of the following actions:

  • Instruct bailiffs to take your goods to settle your debt - this can include your car.
  • You will be liable to pay the bailiffs costs which could substantially increase the debt. Instruct your employer to deduct payments from your salary or wages.
  • Deduct money straight from your jobseekers allowance or income support.
  • Make you bankrupt.
  • Make a charging order against your home.
  • Have you committed to prison.

COMMITTAL HEARING

You cannot be sent to prison without a committal hearing in front of the magistrates. They can only send you to prison if you refuse to pay or for “culpable neglect”. So always make an offer. They also have the power to remit all or part of the tax; so the means statement, the doctor’s letter and the appearance in court are vital. The magistrates are required to call the duty solicitor if they are thinking of sending you to prison and if you have no legal representation.

The bailiffs should only charge £75 if they do not make a visit and £230 if they do and £105 for a visit to collect goods. If there has been a change of circumstances, or they are the first person to meet the vulnerable debtor then they can return the debt to the local authority for reconsideration and a discretionary payment.                  PN 22/05/13

VULNERABLE SITUATIONS – Issued by the Ministry of Justice in 2012.

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. 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.

Enforcement agents must withdraw from domestic premises if the only person present is, or appears to be, under the age of 18; they can ask when the debtor will be home - if appropriate.

Enforcement agents must withdraw without making enquiries if the only persons present are children who appear to be under the age of 12.

Wherever possible, enforcement agents should have arrangements in place for rapidly accessing translation services when these are needed, and provide on request information in large print or in Braille for debtors with impaired sight.

Those who might be potentially vulnerable include:

  • 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.

http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/courts/bailiffs-enforcement-officers/national-standards-enforcement-agents.pdf

 

Rev Paul Nicolson

Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road,
Tottenham,
London N17 0BF
0208 3765455
07961 177889
also at http://www.z2k.org
also at http://www.prohousingalliance.com
http://www.taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Taxpayers-Against-Poverty/299911526728884


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