It is very difficult to find out about people who have been made bankrupt by councils chasing council tax arrears. There is an article in the Guardian from 2008, another from 2007, both raising concern, but not a lot since then.

Apart from reports by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Local Government Ombudsman and Local Government Lawyer, all asking how fair the bankruptcy process is for council tax collection, there is little other information out there, apart from on councils or the Insolvency Service’s own websites.

Which way to go? Once a process starts snowballing it becomes impossible to stop.

Which way to go? Once a process starts snowballing it becomes impossible to stop.

Mr Woods, mentioned in the 2007 article, was said to owe £1,500, but ended up losing £18,000, the fees to the insolvency practitioner appointed by the insolvency service. An investigation into these ‘insolvency practitioners’ was aired on Newsnight earlier on this year.

If councils are allowed to petition for someone’s bankruptcy if arrears are £750 or over, and cases in which this had happened were publicised as a warning of how someone such as Mr Woods can lose his entire inheritance, wouldn’t this work as a cost-effective deterrent to put off non-payment.

Secrecy?

So why are cases in which this has happened, and I’ve heard from people who have lost thousands of pounds over a relatively small demand for council tax, so hard to find on the Internet? Are councils and the Insolvency Service being secretive about making people bankrupt?

Victorian times. Are they gone? There is no debtors prison anymore.

Victorian times. Are they gone? There is no debtors prison anymore.

And how much money is being taken from people in this way?

Surely if a council was using bankruptcy as a last resort in the case of someone who ignored their demands and refused to pay their council tax, and the council had tried every other method and finally resorted to using bankruptcy, they could would announce it to warn other people to not avoid paying their tax?

It seems we hear more about cuts than ongoing local services which council tax is funding. Does that instill confidence in people about what their money is being used for?

Council tax could double the average basic monthly household out-goings on water, electricity, gas, wi-fi, phone and perhaps including Sky.

Legitimate

Therefore, if this process is legitimate and fair, why don’t we hear about people it is happening to and how much it has cost them?

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 23.23.26

People could go from wealthy, through a series of removals of assets to penniless and homeless without recourse to any discussion.

Why also don’t we hear about where this money is going?

The Financial Times reported that the Insolvency Service may themselves be in the red. Therefore they’ve probably cut staff and other costs. How efficient can they be now? And if they get funding from people who creditors make bankrupt, does that motivate them to target people with large assets, supposedly on behalf of councils? Insolvency Practitioners definitely cost a bomb.

If council tax is a ‘priority payment’ and councils are complaining about shortages of tax income, why aren’t councils using examples where council tax avoidance has ruined lives to help encourage people to pay as a priority? This seems to be a cheaper way of getting people to pay rather than using private contractors.

Deterrent

If someone read or heard about a fellow citizen losing thousands over a council tax bill of £1,000, wouldn’t it scare them enough to pay promptly? Wouldn’t this deterrent save the council tons of money in chasing up council tax arrears?

If councils claim to want to be fair to people who do pay their council tax, wouldn’t fast, cheap and effective ways of collecting council tax be fairer to these good payers than squandering their hard-earned cash on private debt collectors and bailiffs, courts, solicitors, insolvency practitioners and others? The police get involved even though debt is not a criminal offense.

Would responsible tax collection include inspiring people with service improvements they can contribute to?

Would responsible tax collection include inspiring people with service improvements they can contribute to?

So why are the increasing numbers of cases where bankruptcy is being used for chasing up council tax arrears only visible on the Individual Insolvency Register and not even in the London Gazette?

Pickings

Is it because the rich pickings for the council, Insolvency Service, insolvency practitioners, solicitors and others such as auction houses is more important than just collecting council tax?

What is the cost of collecting council tax without using bankruptcy, ie:

  • By applying to courts for a legitimate liability order within the required time period.
  • Setting up a viable payment plan or debt relief order, giving the person a fair chance to pay.
  • By discussing the amount owed without involving solicitors to ensure it is the correct amount,
  • Ensuring that the correct liable party is approached, ie the tenant, not the landlord.
  • Ensuring that the council have informed people of their rights, such as discounts due to uninhabited properties and what forms they need to fill in.
  • By not sending demands for arrears dating back more than 6 years.
  • By just resorting to private debt collectors as the Working Tax Credits office does?

Once the Insolvency Service gets involved, the may make an insolvency practitioner (IP) the trustee of the bankrupt’s estate, and the IP could charge up to £600 by the hour.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 22.49.59

Do we see cuts to public maintenance rather than where our council tax is being spent?

Trustees snatch rent and deposits, which could be worth ten times the original debt owed, without giving the individual sufficient time or warning about the bankruptcy process, which could lead them to selling a property to pay off any debts.

Why does the Official Receiver demand ‘co-operation’ if the whole estate can be taken without the previous owner’s consent to bankruptcy? If someone is poor, they are warned to avoid bankruptcy at all cost.

Properties

In the case of a landlord (who is no longer responsible for their tenants’ council tax), removal of rents could send mortgages into arrears, leading to repossession, costing the individual many tens or hundreds of thousands more than the original payment demand. A lot of people’s hard-earned cash can be squandered in this way. The council’s responsibility would be to chase the tenants for their tax and it is their fault if they lose track of these people.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 22.59.06Once the council have made someone bankrupt, it seems that the Insolvency Service can flatten all their assets and refuse to account for what they have taken. People are treated worse than criminals. Debt is a civil, not a criminal offense.

Warned

So shouldn’t people be warned about this to avoid it happening to them?

If these processes are totally above-board, and this was irrefutably proven, wouldn’t councils want to warn people of how severe the consequences are of not paying their council tax?

Is this process hidden because it makes councils look so much worse than the cost of putting a charge on their property, so the debt can be repaid when they sell or mortgage it?

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 23.00.40

Do we see where council tax is being spent or just hear about cuts to blame ourselves?

Is part of the level of council tax spent on administration, possible errors and the costs of trying to meet targets for receiving council tax?

These costs could be cut and targets reached if people knew what could happen to them if they don’t pay, and possibly even the amount required from each tax payer could be reduced.

Maintenance

Perhaps if services and maintenance of public spaces were kept up and council spending on their areas was reported or visible, council tax wouldn’t be so hard to chase up as people could see what they were paying for.

When you hear about nothing but cuts and complaints about non-payers it is hard to see how councils could ever create a trusting partnership with the public that provides their funding.

Finding out what people think about this and why percentages of people can’t or don’t pay, therefore getting some feedback from their communities, would be a step towards being responsible for things that don’t work in their area.

The worst thing I find about the ease of use from computers is how much organisations make use of ‘automated mailouts’ or reminders that only subtract and do not add to existing communications.

Councils do it like mad: letters to actually confirm a payment, made to worry you by saying ‘please see the back of this letter to see any outstanding payments.’

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 15.53.26Firstly, these unnecessary mailings cost us, the taxpayer. The senders never see the brunt of their confusing, sometimes stressful and downright unnecessary mailing. Do they have a deal to keep Royal Mail in business or something?

I got a parking fine through the post before the weekend. I pay it on Monday and get another notice today. Just to let off steam, I write to them:

To info@parkingeye.co.uk
Today at 2:20 PM
I got letter on Friday 8 August. Paid on MONDAY 11th August. Thursday 14th August I get a second demand for payment. NO mention of ‘if you have paid this in last 3 days please discard this notice’. The eventuality of someone having paid should be covered! Adding those words COSTS NOTHING.You guys are (probably deliberately) very poor communicators. When I got the 2nd notice (only a weekend and 3 days after last one) it worried me because:
1. I’d paid 3 days ago online (this is the digital age, not horseback post)
2. I worried it was another charge, as it didn’t say ‘If I have paid please discard…’
3. I had to call an automated 0844 number to double check. More on phone bill.

A parking ticket by a beach at 9am is ENOUGH. No further punishment required. Thank you for added and unnecessary extra stress and DON’T send out reminders without ‘if you have paid in last 3 days please discard this notice’ on if it takes you THAT LONG to process and you send out reminds THAT QUICKLY.

Rant over
I got a reply confirming payment but without any response or acknowledgement to my feedback that a few words could have saved stress, inconvenience and loss of time.
Letters letters everywhere but not a word to comprehend. You'd have to be a wizard today to communicate with our public sector.

Letters letters everywhere but not a word to comprehend. You’d have to be a wizard today to communicate with our public sector.

I get to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau a couple of minutes before 10am, when the weekly drop in is open, and it’s already heaving. Two visits because citizens, however intelligent, are prevented from sorting out issues with public authorities without legal representation, due to the unfathomable “communication” style now favoured by the public sector when it wants money from people, or more accurately, decided it doesn’t want to give out the money it has promised them, and made them jump through hoops to attain.

The papers are full of the same old stories. 75% of people on disability are fit enough to work. 4 million families are “scrounging” (ironic that) from the welfare state. They’re living the life of Riley, getting on with their own creative projects, popping out babies, going down the park, installing Jacuzzi, hiding their private income, getting razzled every night and buying all the latest mod cons to deck out their manor houses on their public sector hand outs? Sounds more like public sector employees to me.

The only way politicians can imagine these lives must be based on their own personal experiences. They receive public money, not performance related, and claim expenses and they can afford holidays in Cornwall, second homes, holiday cottages and expensive cars.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 12.40.26Perhaps the odd flashy Merc brightening up the pot-hole ridden cement next to a deliciously inviting wall for a bit of kick about (splattered indifferently with anti-climbing paint and “Ball Games Strictly Prohibited” notices) would likely be from the black market, where the urgently disposable income of people who have too much is going.

Empire of The Sun Newspaper

Now the outer reaches of the British Empire have shrunk much pretty much back to our shores, rulers only have us here back in Blighty to colonize.

And Colonize they do.

The Insolvency Service is struggling so much and begging the government for more funding that their only source of finance is the assets of people they make bankrupt. This article first appeared in the Financial Times. Jolly useful when Councils can petition for someone’s bankruptcy if they owe £750 or more in Council Tax (as a “priority” payment that doubles standard household bills).

As for living on benefits: There are nowhere near enough jobs to go round so why not imprison all the unemployed in the welfare state? Make it so impossible for them to get into paid work and off benefits that they won’t trouble the jobs of the smugly employed. Those lucky enough to earn a living wage are then free to be “professional” by doing the minimum required in the longest time possible.

When an intelligent, qualified, eager-to-work person does escape the trap or maze with the hint of a hard-won “working holiday” of 6 weeks employment and declare it, the Job Centre will tangle them in “automatic replies”, interrogations, fines and humiliation in the press so they just give up and shut up.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 13.32.24

Click for Nandinispeaks Blogspot – source of pic

With all the press about benefit fraud, the very people who can fathom the system to get hand-outs from Working Tax Credits are not hard-working people juggling families and surviving each day on low-incomes because the system requires far too much attention to make work.

The people who have the time, leisure and freedom of mind to go online and find the instruction manual for free money (the hidden from view Code of Practice or COP15, which is first revealed to you when you’ve broken its rules) are surely the people not entitled to it. But to navigate this system smoothly, you must have plenty of time to know exactly what and when to tell HMRC anything (plus an empty week to get through on the phone and a few quid stashed away to pay for the calls) by finding and studying their secret dossiers.

Payments are calculated on information you provide to HMRC – information they make so vague you have to read COP15 to know about) so people with no scruples about getting handouts can work the system (the 3% with sufficient lack of social conscience to be fraudulent), not honest people calling in to volunteer information to find it didn’t fit the rules and they have to pay every penny back in one lump sum. That’s before the bailiffs are called in. (Guardian Article)

In conclusion, the public sector is spending money like water, unchecked and ungoverned, on bailiffs, courts, legal people, insolvency practitioners, administrators, paper, envelopes, postage, debt collectors and any other means to make the Great British Public (to paraphrase 2 pictures above) “lose our self-esteem, our native culture, become what the government want and become a truly dominated nation”.

 

 

Breaking News: The longest tennis game in history is still taking place on the Court of Wombledon, between two novice players who are an impeccable match for each other.

This is despite the oppositions being not just on opposite sides of the net, but also of gender. One is a man and one is a woman. Neither have a backround in tennis but the rallies keep coming.

On the Court Centre are Mr Randy Woo facing Rachel Wriggleroom. Both are solicitors by day.

A report from a close insider to both opponents has come in, to reveal the secret of their stamina and why they are so well-matched against the odds. Harrington Green, 45, divorced of 18 Kidlington Manor Estate, Oxford, OXON OX1 1AP reveals exclusively to Dairy of A Nonny Moose that “Each and every shot they play, even when the ball doesn’t fall in the court is instantly earning them £180 + VAT).

5th February 2014 the match commenced:

Where all the action is taking place

Where all the action is taking place

Mr Woo serves. Rachel returns the ball. The rally tots up over 20 shots before Mr Woo takes the point.

This carries on for a month.

Rachel serves an ace. Game to Wriggleroom who is now in the lead at 6 games to 5. First set. The ball-boy picks up the ball and returns it to Mr Woo to serve.

Oh this looks like an easy one after her previous performance. No, that was a bad miss. It is now 6 all.

They go for a tie break. Wriggleroom to serve.

Nice serve. Woo returns deep. Rachel does the same and runs up to the net. My God! She’s taken 8 volleys in row. This is unheard of. Mr Woo goes for an overhead shot and that’s point to Mr Woo.

Opposites sides of court, table and gender - this extraordinary match continues

Opposites sides of court, table and gender – this extraordinary match continues

Another month later.

The score is 2 sets all. 5 games to 5.

Wriggleroom serves. That clocked up over 100mph on the meter. Mr Woo returns with a dolly-drop over the net which Rachel just catches. 30 love to Wriggleroom.

Wriggleroom serves and loses the point. And another point. It is now a tie at 2 sets all, 5 games all and 30 all. No one knows who will win this but Mr Woo of course has the advantage of being the more aggressive player.

It is now 6-5 to Woo but Wriggleroom looks like she may have a last burst of energy up her sleeve. She is prancing back and forth while Mr Woo prepares his serve.

She’s done that before, placing the ball in the far back-hand right corner and Woo does another drop just over the net. That is match point to Woo.

She’s saved it. Deuce.

Woo looks like he could play another match while Rachel looks painfully exhausted and wants to take the match or admit defeat.

Rachel serves. That’s an ace. 15 love. Look at that play! They softly tap the ball back and forwards, neither listening to their coaches or taking any risks now. This could go on forever.

They are neck and neck. Who will win. Who knows. Find out soon.

Voter apathy? They’re all the same? What’s the point? All vitally good inquiries we should all be making about who to vote for when the next election comes round.

To make life easier for you, take this quiz to find out:

Who should you be voting for in the next general election?

Question 1.

What does NQOSD stand for?

A). Never Query Our Serious Daughter

B). Neither Queer Or Straight Darling

C) Not Quite Our Sort Dear

D). Never Question Our Salad Dinner!

Question 2.

What hangs in your windows?

A). Lace.

B). Blinds

C). Burgundy velvet curtains

D). My laundry

Question 3.

What do you think about Screaming Lord Such?

A). Mad

B) Crazy Genius

C). Dead

D). Genius

Question 4.

When would you get solar panels?

A). When the sun is extinguished.

B). When I win the lottery

C). When I have time, ie never.

D). I’ve already got them you presumptuous cheeky patronizing idiot. Get your own.

Question 5.

What do you think of the English Weather?

A). Nowhere near enough sun. But if we had enough sun we wouldn’t be who we are would we?

B). It should go away and come back when it’s made its mind up.

C). A pain when so many events take place outdoors.

D). Better than Africa’s.

Who would you like to work here in the future?

Who would you like to work here in the future?

Question 6.

Choose a quadruped for your garden:

A). Llama

B). Goat

C). Horse

D). Donkey

Question 7:

What causes extreme weather events?

A). Sexual proclavity

B). Grandmother’s spells.

C). How the hell should I know?

D). The weather system/probably climate change.

Question 8.

The Queen announces she will be coming to yours for tea. What do you do?

A). Sell your house and buy a better one.

B). Quickly put together a business plan Powerpoint Presentation.

C). Brush up on trending conversation topics.

D). Clean your home and do some baking.

Question 9.

What is your favourite drink?

A). An exotic cocktail I had once in Geneva, which you wouldn’t have heard of. Mwah!

B). Whatever you’re having.

C). Gin and Tonic with a slice of lemon with ice.

D). You can’t beat the treat of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Question 10.

Where would you live if mainland UK was converted into a giant prison as on the Johnny English film?

A). The Ascension Islands.

B). Wherever they give me the best deal.

C). The Isle of Wight. Need you ask.

D). Ireland.

That’s all the questions. Now for the answers. Below you will see who you should vote for.

If you mostly answered A:

You shouldn’t vote.

If you mostly answered B:

You probably wouldn’t know how to.

If you mostly answered C:

It’s your bloody fault we’re in a coalition. Snap out of it.

If you mostly answered D:

Whoever takes your fancy.

 

 

Many a true word spoken in jest. This is in jest.

The government seems to do anything to reclaim cash, without much regard for citizens’ well-being or livelihood. There certainly seems to be a lack of awareness about the realities of getting off benefits and into sustainable paid work.

Here are the reasons why MPs ought to understand the fortunes of people on benefits, especially lifelong claimants, a lot better. And why they are hypocrites:

  • Their lives are all about everyone else telling them what they should be doing, not letting them get on with what they think they should be doing.
  • MPs get money from the public purse, not through producing, marketing and selling products or services.
  • So much time is taken up with red tape and firefighting, that time to be productive is greatly reduced and therefore highly frustrating in their work.
  • If an MP stopped receiving money for work in politics they would probably not have the experience or qualifications to get a commercial job. This is because not many MPs seem to have done many jobs outside politics, law or economics.
  • Whereas people on benefits can’t use any of their own income to leverage themselves into work, whereas people going into politics need to finance themselves until they become an elected councillor as state hand-outs are not there to help you find sustainable paid work.
  • MPs seem to need expenses for all aspect of their lives such as their home, travel, childcare, food and council tax. (Sorry, that’s from the Daily Mail :-(
  • An MP would need a well paid job to be able to afford to stop living off politics.

There you go. There are probably many more examples where MPs could look at their own lives and understand what a human being needs to stop needing money from the state and get into sustainable work.

This is a rant, sweeping statements made without back-up proof.

Yet, I think we’re now used to scientists being paid to do the same and “experts” coming out with statements of fact that most people already know. Now I’ve warned you, do carry on reading if you like.

This is not just opinion, but an inquiry for discussion. Do discuss if you have any views on the following.

In the name of “fairness”, there is an obsession with everyone of a working age having a salaried job. But the playing field of possibilities for work and financial sustainability is far from level.

The repercussions of this state of affairs are:

  1. There are nowhere near enough paid jobs for people of a working age.
  2. Many people work hard for too little to live on.
  3. People without paid work are stopped/prevented or hindered from being productive in anyway they choose by this system.
  4. It doesn’t follow that the people who want to work, be productive and contribute are those most likely to be found doing so.
  5. A culture of exclusion is very fertile.

It is a basic human right for people to be useful. Yet, because of the overwhelming shortage of paid jobs available:

  • There is a vastly open landscape for mutual back-scratching and giving jobs to people within a certain network instead of trying to find the best candidate who applies.
  • Discrimination is rife, which discourages able and qualified people from applying to work in certain cultures when they think they’ll be rejected out of hand without being able to find out why.
  • Work environments become more homogeneous, which has been shown to be less productive than diverse workplaces, therefore there is lower performance, less pay, less work, less opportunity etc.
  • People stagnate in jobs instead of being able to use transferable skills and change industries (unless you’re a CEO) and face new challenges.
  • People start to focus on clinging to their jobs, literally for dear life, instead of being good at them.
  • Employers can and often do exploit workers and/or employ the cheapest workforce possible.
  • Laws prevent employers from firing and hiring to get the best results for their company.

People I know on benefits have to battle with the welfare state to take any work they can find as the system seems to prevent anyone from building up their opportunities to become financially sustainable. People are, in a manner of speaking, ‘fined’ for signing off benefits for paid work.

My conclusion:

The welfare state could be creating employers, product makers, entrepreneurs and teamwork to get people off benefits and create more jobs.

Instead of a course on seeking work, how about courses to form a company and sell your own work?

So many people don’t know what they ought to do for work or what they can do. When it’s all about getting paid, people work differently then if they are doing something productive, knowing they can keep a roof over their head, pay their bills and put food on the table.

There’s food for thought anyway. Another blog will be some locally based ideas to suggest a step by step change that is possible.

Why are councils using such bully boy/girl tactics over council tax arrears?

I was taken in by the poor little impoverished council story I’ve been brainwashed by, particularly over the radio. It is way worse than them spending all their cash chasing council tax in a well-meaning but misguided way. Much worse. They are making money from the whole thing.

Here is a fine column, which is giving us all awareness that things are not as they seem:

In this comment column in the Telegraph, various unscrupulous practices are being used, not just to “recover debt” but to make money from the heavy-handed methods they use, which scare people. Not scare them into paying tax. Just to scare them into submission.

But wait. They aren’t giving people fair and achievable ways of paying council tax. Findings by the Citizens Advice Bureau, in the PDF the link downloads, beautifully shows how one council differs from another over their use of private bailiffs and how they respond to complaints about them. Just look at that language!

The Telegraph column by Christopher Booker says:

“Most of these alternative sources of revenue are sanctioned by central government, but in some instances the “dash for cash” has led councils into activities that are outside the law.”

In other words, councils are actively profiting from their methods to claim unpaid council tax.

For instance, the use of private debt collectors instead of bailiffs. Why would a public authority pay for private firms to collect money?

Booker writes:

“Two weeks ago, I reported how many councils have outsourced their collection of unpaid council tax to private firms of bailiffs, who then charge much more than the law allows for practices such as “phantom visits” – merely pushing letters through doors – which both the Government and the police state are criminal offences under the 2006 Fraud Act.”

The article shows how councils can only impose “costs reasonably incurred” to issue summons or liability (to pay) orders, which must also under the law be charged for separately,  under the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992. However:

  • The issue of an order can cost down to £1.22 and councils are charging £80 or £122 in one case.

Just charging for issuing summons is the start of this. Then there are legal fees (£2,000+) for an internal council legal person, a trustee for assets after involuntary insolvency costing a huge amount (see earlier blog on reports from the Ombudsman), renting court rooms, paying private bailiffs, there seem to be lots of people earning income themselves and buffering the coffers of their councils. Leading to those pay-rises (ahem!).

Of course when everyone is in on the game, there is no one to blow a whistle or to respond professionally to inquiries from members of the public.

A friend in Cornwall has had 2 houses possessed because all his income was blocked  and subsequently he defaulted on his mortgages. This was over a payment of around £7,000 in council tax, which he offered to pay.

Who monitors the councils’ actions? Do they just squirm out of responding in a professional manner to our questions. Can we not let them?

The Telegraph (yes, the Telegraph!) column suggests:

“Examples from across the country suggest that the sum raised by councils in this way, going way beyond what is permitted by the law – and levied from some of the poorest homes in the country – could be as much as £300 million a year”

The suggestion here is that there is an unregulated self-profiting scam here. Cover up tactics include:

  • Giving the impression that they are short of cash by publicly making cuts to services.
  • Using the press to blame non-payers of council tax.
  • Aggressive and bullish tactics to intimidate people.
  • Abusing their authority and that people think they are there to run things.
  • Stirring up resentment from the people able to pay and those who can’t by implying they are the problem and getting people to faction and fight between each other.

No! Don’t be taken in by this age-old divide and rule method. Don’t blame the person sitting next to you for being too fat because the bus company has made the seats smaller.

Keep your eye on the authorities or they will get away with anything they can.

That is human nature. Don’t fight human nature. Know your rights, fight for them and fight wrongdoing. Job done.

Have you just switched on the radio and heard some poor, beaten local councillor talking about “unavoidable” increases in council tax and cuts to local services?

Here is an article on the impact on public mental health in the Express.

It seems today we hear increasingly about cuts. Buses are cut back. We are asked to pay more or threatened with losing things. What are we being given for what we pay? It’s always taking back, not giving. But we are asked to pay more.

Austerity has been imposed on us. Meanwhile no mention is made of local councils or government making cuts to their own cloth or any of their own austere actions on spending.

You may read an article in your local paper about the huge amount of tax owed your council. But do you hear about how much they spend trying to chase that debt?

An MP such as Phil Hogan argued in the Irish Independent for use of taxpayers money to chase debt. Is anything mentioned of regulation to monitor how that tax money is being spent? Is the amount recouped or the amount outstanding mentioned? Is what services that money could be used to pay for even considered?

Are councils’ own departments obliged to show they have approached non-payers in a fair, non-threatening manner to review someone’s circumstances and discuss achievable means of repayment?

A letter saying ‘you owe £xxx and we would like to review your living circumstances and discuss achievable means for you to pay it before we take further action’ would be fair. It also wouldn’t cost the council much.

The costs of eroding trust in our councils and their abilities to do what they are there for are as yet uncalculated. Is it too late?

I think it’s never too late ever for any individual or organisation to say ‘maybe we are not doing this the best way’ and look for better ways to do things.

But better for who? Is there a vested interest amongst different compartments in the public sector that means they don’t want to even consider if things are being done in the best way in public interest, not in their own?

Do we have any bodies with the power to oversee how the public sector is working in the public’s interest or can authorities do as they please with the right collusion from others in positions of authority?

Better in the public sector must mean better for the public.

JOBSWORTHS

Unfortunately people enjoy pointing the finger more than looking at themselves and if you are jobsworth, the power to bully people without recourse is too much to resist, as bullying is the consolation prize for those without any purpose in life.

OK, I’ll get to the point.

To scare anyone not paying their rates or taxes, councils are spending taxpayers’ money on:

  • internal legal people,
  • renting rooms in court houses,
  • court personnel
  • private debt collectors
  • Auction houses
  • trustees

To read the full focus report by the Ombudsman, which gives examples as case studies, click here.

How are they getting away with this?

The language and the documents all look so official. They are designed to scare. Read this great blog for more info.

  • Councils will disregard Ombusdman’s rulings if they want to.
  • There is no independent body set up to monitor how councils spend council tax.
  • The media will carry stories about councils not having enough public money but they won’t reveal how money is spent.
  • Letters are made to look official and carry worrying threats.
  • All the people involved are given the official stamp, whether acting lawfully or not, and the fees they earn are made to look as if they are caused by the debtor’s actions, not the choice of the council to engage them.
  • Everyone involved in chasing council debts has agreed to work together to protect their own and each others’ interests so no one who knows what is going on is going to reveal it publicly.

Who can stop this?

That is one of the biggest problems here. However, together as taxpayers we can and must:

  • Engage national media with the power to investigate to uncover any unlawful actions and reveal what is being spent and where.
  • Demand councils are transparent about all their local spending, including the size of their budgets from taxpayers.
  • Ensure councils have approached you fairly, unthreateningly and considerately to review your circumstances and discuss achievable means of repayment.
  • Ensure responses in all correspondence from official bodies address each point you raise in a professional and accountable manner.
  • That we expect the police and the courts to not use loopholes to avoid ruling if actions taken against a person are lawful or not.
  • To demand that actions are not compartmentalised (ie passing authority from lawyer, to Insolvency Service, to debt collector to trustee) so that councils can avoid overall responsibility for their actions and spending in debt collection.
  • To use the Freedom of Information Act to reveal how much has been spent by councils in chasing debtors and how much debt has been collected.
  • For studies to be funded independently and information made available for reports to reflect the relationships between actions of public bodies and the people whose lives they effect.
  • For an independent body to oversee the different compartments of social welfare to see where improvements can be made.
  • For people acting in their own financial interests from a position of authority in the public sector to face consequences and be removed from positions that give them power to act for personal gains without supervision.
  • For fines for perjury and unlawful threats made to individuals to be levied on authorities that don’t stick within the law.

While investigating for a friend, I found this document which fairly discusses and weighs up the implications of government bodies (Councils/HMRC) incurring costs when chasing up non-payments. It outlines cases where maladministration could have occurred.

Focus Report Using Bankruptcy For Council Tax Debts

This bit is interesting for us all to note:

Case study – taking account of costs

A council pursued Mr F for a council tax debt of £839.43.

The bankruptcy process incurred costs of approximately £38,000 including VAT, legal costs of £2,260, trustee’s costs of £13,459 and trustee’s legal costs of £13,373 together with the disbursements and the costs of the Official Receiver.

The Ombudsman said:

The council cannot, it seems to me, turn a blind eye to the consequences to the debtor of any recovery option it pursues. Some courses will no doubt be administratively more convenient and less costly than others. But in selecting these options the impact on the debtor should be weighed in the balance. The dire and punitive consequences of bankruptcy, involving a multiplication of the debt many times over and frequently incurring the loss of the debtor’s home must be factor to be taken into account … I have seen no evidence that this relevant consideration was taken into account … that was maladministration.