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.


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.

One thought on “The hidden story of councils’ debt recovery

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