If you fail to pay your Council Tax – for whatever reason – within the permitted time, Folkestone & Hythe District Council will send you a reminder. If you fail to pay within seven days your rights to pay by instalments is lost.
If perchance you still do not pay, cannot afford to pay, you are summonsed to a magistrates court. Three Cllrs in the past have received summons letter to attend the magistrates court, along with many residents.
Although dealt with in the magistrates’ court, non-payment of council tax is not a criminal offence, but recovery of a civil debt. The complexity of the system means that each recovery stage is delegated to computers, save at the court hearing where magistrates make liability orders. As most debtors don’t attend court, the first actual human being they encounter is a bailiff who demands fees, increasing the debt.
However, those who attend court, disputing liability or demand to see the evidence against them pose a major problem. Hearings are notoriously technical. Breaches of basic rights at proceedings are common, with Councils also adding their own inflated charges as ‘Court Costs‘ often lacking any proper legal basis hardly ever explained.
FHDC’s court costs are broken down so:
Summons Costs = £60
Liability Order Costs = £65
Now compare with this with Regulation 34(7)(b) of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992 No.613) a court, when granting a liability order, shall make an order reflecting the aggregate of the outstanding council tax and “a sum of an amount equal to the costs reasonably incurred by the applicant in obtaining the order.”
3.4 – Local Authorities are reminded that they are only permitted to charge reasonable costs for the court summons and liability order. In the interests of transparency, Local Authorities should be able to provide a breakdown, on request, showing how these costs are calculated. While it is likely that authorities will have discussed costs with the Clerk to Justices it should be recognised that the Court may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority.
The Council breakdown their costs as follows:
Moving on, between (April 1st) 2015/16 – 2017/18 (March 31st) six thousand five hundred and ninety people were sent summonses to attend Court for non payment of Council Tax.
As we said, the vast majority of people summonsed do not turn up to the magistrates court (the wild west), but those that do, rarely even enter the courtroom to have a case heard. Those that do so go legally unrepresented. Council Tax laws are technical & complex, so the individual faces little, if any chance of success in challenging the court costs added on by the Council.
If for whatever reason you cannot afford to pay your council tax you are hardly like to be able to afford the court costs either, so why the necessity to increase the amount due and force the individual further into debt?
So between the financials years 2015/16 – 2017/18, FHDC summonsed 6590 people to court for non-payment of Council Tax. The potential income for court costs alone (summons & liability order), amounts to £823,750 of court cost debt creation. It is an astonishing figure, but is it “reasonable”? Contrast this with Liability orders charged at just £3, the Council’s potential income for the period could have been £448,120, is that “reasonable“?
So why the big deal about court costs. Well at FHDC’s Cabinet meeting of the 13th June 2018, Cllr Rory Love (Con) wished to know why the Council Tax court costs awarded to FHDC had been reduced, noted in Report Number C/18/08.
The video makes clear that Cllr Love (Con) – who earned £33,251 from his Cllrs allowances and expenses (KCC + FHDC 2017/18) was not happy about the reduction in court costs received by the Council. Thankfully, a district judge (a fully qualified legal practitioner, against a non-legally qualified magistrate) decided to pay less to the Council.
We believe that the likes of Cllr Rory Love are out of touch with the real world, especially when in the Conservative led Council’s snapshot of our year 2017-18 document; which went before FHDC cabinet on Wednesday 18th July, it states at page 3:
although there has been growth in the numbers of jobs, these have been generally lower paid, lower skilled jobs.
And furthermore, we know more families in work are receiving benefits of one type or another, and still find it increasingly more difficult to make ends meet.
Is £3 reasonable or is £125 court costs “reasonable” when you already have a debt you cannot pay, for whatever reason. We’ll leave you to make up your own mind.
If you are having problems paying your council tax, then you can approach:
Council Tax Advisors – on 0300 302 1806, Monday – Friday: 9am – 8pm Saturday: 9am -1pm
or for advice on debt issues
Stepchange – on 0800 138 1111 Mon-Fri 8am-8pm, Sat 8am-4pm
The Shepwayvox Team – Journalism for the people NOT the powerful
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