31 December 2014

What final notice?

The fuss has died down until next year about Capita's approach to Council Tax collection methods which some councillors reported to a committee as being less understanding of residents with financial problems. This is anecdotal evidence as opposed to a statistical study which councillors really don't have sufficient time to carry out. One must of course remember that Capita have promised to improve collection rates that were already pretty good and they could only do that, in Mr Mustard's view, by being less prepared to give time to pay. Mr Mustard is sure that short term improvements can be made but thinks that more people will be driven to evade the bailiff (if you are truly poor there won't be anything in your home worth seizing and selling) to move away and to bankruptcy (and on the NNDR front more businesses will be sent to the wall) and ultimately the strategy will fail.

During the time that this issue was in the spotlight for the main 2014-15 summons issuing phase, Cllr Richard Cornelius was armed by the chief officer with information about the way collections worked and some stats. Of course, the stats showed that Capita were issuing fewer summonses than the council used to (which Mr Mustard simply didn't believe. He would want to look at every case for both years to make a proper comparison).

Here is a broad time-line (instalment should have only the one L as we are not in the USA)

Mr Mustard highlighted in red some interesting parts of the table which he suspects most people will find astonishing. There is no need for the council to issue anything other than a first or second reminder before adding your name to a huge list of cases filed in the magistrates court which get rubber stamped as debts and have issue costs added to them. The least most people would fairly expect is a fair warning that legal action is imminent and Mr Mustard thinks that should be the standard practice. Here is proof that cases are going to Court without a final notice in the form of the numbers from Richard's long email.

Action #
First reminder 29,492
Second reminder 8,574
Final notice 10,768
Summons 13,373
Bailiff 4,556

As you can see there were 2,600 more summonses than Final Notices and bear in mind that many people who received their final notice would have paid up so that means even more people had the shock of going from a first or second reminder straight to Court. Mr Mustard does not think this is equitable. Government have given councils a huge advantage over commercial businesses when it comes to the recovery of debt.

Mr Mustard is currently working on a large trade ledger for the supply of goods. He has a debtor who owes £50,000 for goods of which £40,000 were supplied late. His client has since gone in administration (a form of insolvency) and suddenly the debtor wants to pay 50% to cover his losses. It is an opportunistic as opposed to real claim as no mention was made of any alleged loss prior to the appointment of the Administrators. Mr Mustard cannot simply go off to Court and issue proceedings. Solicitors have to issue a clear notice that Court action is being contemplated and offer alternative dispute resolution of some kind. This all slows the process down and would give an unscrupulous debtor time to dissipate his assets (Mr Mustard's debtor isn't going to disappear and can easily pay, he just has an eye to the main chance and mistakenly thinks the Administrators won't have money to spend on legal action. Oh dear, how wrong he is. This sort of case illustrates why Mr Mustard has less time for blogging at the moment - he is fully occupied with this sort of nonsense).

Given the enormous one-sided power granted to councils they should exercise it with discretion but as we have seen with parking tickets give a council the power to do something that lines their pocket, they will use it with alacrity.

Just returning to Richard's email for the moment it also says that 95% of calls to the call centre about Council Tax were answered (it must have dedicated numbers or otherwise one wouldn't know what the missed call was about). Richard doesn't say anything else about that statistic so Mr Mustard will. It is a disgrace as there are an average 9,400 calls a month about Council Tax so 470 or so were not even being answered. The target should be 99.9% Why do councils sign contracts for mediocre service levels?

Richard's final point "Finally, all calls to the Council tax service are recorded" so if you are locked in a dispute with the council about your case you can file a Subject Access Request, pay £10 and get the recordings and all the notes about your case.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Update: You can ask to pay your Council Tax for next year in 12 instalments rather than 10. Contact the council now to ask for this. You can email local.taxation@barnet.gov.uk quoting your council tax number or your name and address asking now for this facility for next year.

Where most people come unstuck is that are late paying a single instalment and then the right to pay by instalments is lost and you are expected to come up with 12 month's council tax when you were struggling to pay one. The sensible thing would be to reschedule 11 month's remaining tax due over the 10 months to come but that would be to look for some commonsense and help from a body (Capita) whose interest is profit and who doubtless get penalised if they don't hit the collection target or get a bonus if they do. Any such financial gain is at your expense. Remind Mr Mustard, isn't Crapita meant to work for the benefit of and at the service of residents? Councillors who agreed to sign up to a contract they didn't read, certainly didn't put the community first. They should have been asking questions like "How will you collect more council tax more quickly without upsetting residents and creating extra caseload for councillors?" As history shows, they collectively asked bugger all.

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