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.
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?
“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.