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More than 18,000 Plymouth people summoned to court for not paying council tax

By Plymouth Herald  |  Posted: February 13, 2014

By SAM BLACKLEDGE Herald reporter

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MORE than 18,000 people were summoned to court in the space of nine months last year for failing to pay their council tax – a rise of more than 60 per cent on the entire previous year.

Almost 11,000 of those cases resulted in hearings at Plymouth Magistrates’ Court between April and December, according to new figures, which the council says demonstrates the continuing financial squeeze on the city’s poorest residents.

The council’s finance chief says the rise is due to “unprecedented government cuts”, blaming the red tape associated with the justice process for causing a “ridiculous situation”.

Councillor Mark Lowry, cabinet member for finance, said: “We understand that everyone is feeling the financial pinch in these difficult times and the council’s budget too is under huge pressure through unprecedented government cuts.

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“The contribution of council tax in paying for frontline services is vital and as such we aim to collect over 96 per cent of all payments.

“55 percent of our overall budget is spent on the most vulnerable children and adults in the city through social care services.”

Figures show that the council issued a total of 18,262 summons for non-payment of council tax between April and December 2013.

10,993 of these resulted in “liability orders”, giving the council power to take action and collect the money. This can include having money deducted from your salary or benefits, bailiffs removing items from your home, an application for bankrupcy or committal to prison. Nobody was jailed for non-payment during the period concerned.

Cllr Coker said: “We are disappointed to have issued this number of summons – an increase largely caused by government funding cuts which means an extra 16,000 of those people least able to afford it, must now pay council tax.

“Many of them have asked for their payments to be taken directly from benefits or wages, but current legislation means we are not able to without first going through the courts to get a liability order.

“This is a ridiculous situation, which we are actively challenging government to change to make it easier for people to pay and stay up-to-date with payments.”

Last year the city’s benefits budget was slashed by £2.6million, leaving 16,000 people facing a 25 per cent cut in their council tax support.

The council is attempting to ease the pressure with the introduction of a hardship fund, cutting bills by an average of £50 for the worst-hit.

Councillors have also agreed to cut the minimum required council tax payment from 25 per cent to 20 per cent for working-age residents.

A council spokeswoman said:” We would hope that the reduction will mean that less of our customers will fall behind with payments and therefore there will be less need to issue summonses.”

Every time someone is summoned to court for non-payment of council tax they must pay £60, and a further £23 for each liability order.

Between April and December last year the council collected a total of £200,000 this way, which the authority says covers the cost of outstanding council tax.

Cllr Lowry added: “Anyone who has fallen behind with payments and is worried because they are unable to bring their account up to date should contact us before additional charges get applied.

“Staff in our revenues and benefits department will be able to explore the different payment options available and help choose the one best for each customer. These include: extending existing instalments so that payments are lower and are paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly and setting up direct debit payments. People who find themselves in extreme financial difficulties may be eligible for our exceptional hardship fund – it’s really important that people contact us if they are struggling.”

Residents can contact the council by calling 01752 668000. More information about how to pay, and changes to council tax that came into effect from April 2013 can be found on the Council’s website at www.plymouth.gov.uk/welfarereform

COUNCIL TAX FACTS

Summons issued April to December 2013: 18,262

Liability orders April to December 2013: 10,993

Summons issued April 2012 to April 2013: 11,332

Liability orders 2012-13: 7,757

Summons issued 2011-2012: 13,573

Liability orders 2011-12: 8,965

Money generated through summons and liability orders 2012-13: £200,000

COUNCIL TAX ADVICE

If you miss a council tax payment, the council will take action to recover the money owed.

If you are having difficulty paying you can contact them to discuss payment options. If you are on a low income you may be entitled to council tax benefit.

If you miss a payment the council will send you a reminder. A maximum of two reminders will be issued during the year.

If you ignore a reminder or a final notice the council will send you a summons and charge you costs. You have lost your right to pay by installments and must pay the full balance for the year.

A summons will tell you how much money you owe and will explain that the council is taking the matter to the magistrates’ court.

In court the council will apply for a liability order and charge you further costs. You do not have to attend court.

A liability order gives the council legal powers to recover the money you owe. These powers are as follows:

- Request for information: The council will look at your financial circumstances and decide how to collect the money.

- Attachment of income support or jobseekers’ allowance: The council will ask the Department of Work and Pensions to deduct money from your benefits.

- Attachment of earnings: If you are in work, the council can ask your employer to deduct a certain amount from your wages to pay off your debt.

- Charging order: If your debt is more than £1,000 and you are the owner of your home, the council could force the sale of your house to repay your debt.

- Bankruptcy: If your total debt is more that £750 the council may begin proceedings to make you bankrupt.

- Visit by bailiffs: Costs will be added for a bailiff’s visit and also for removing any goods to sell and pay towards your debt.

- Prison: If the bailiff is unable to collect the debt, you may receive a summons requiring you to attend a committal hearing at court.

Source: Plymouth City Council)

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39 comments

  • TheRedeemer89  |  May 18 2014, 10:00PM

    I also notice how the next batch of liability order hearings is May 23rd. Well played Labour, well played...

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  • TheRedeemer89  |  May 18 2014, 9:59PM

    I have been offering support and advice to people who have been dragged to court since the changes in the Welfare Act which took place in April 2013. Bar one occasion, I've been at the court every month, helping those who are being unfairly dragged in to have more debts added as punishment for their poverty. http://tinyurl.com/nxsrdqd This is one of the reasons why I am standing as a TUSC candidate in the local elections this May. The Con/Dem coalition have been imposing unnecessary austerity measures nationally and the Labour led Council have put through these cuts without consideration for the 20,000 people who are now in arrears as a result. If you're against cuts and want a political alternative that will refuse to plunge the poorest into even more debt, then consider voting TUSC on May 22nd. Yours Sincerely, Ryan Aldred TUSC Candidate for the Ham Ward

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  • timeandagain  |  February 17 2014, 9:43AM

    "...the Government is raising the fees payable by debtors from £24.50 to £310, a 1,165 per cent increase...." Page 12, 3rd paragraph of this bailiff action consultation explains why: http://tinyurl.com/c9ubwru

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  • timeandagain  |  February 17 2014, 9:42AM

    http://tinyurl.com/p7ftycj (In debt families in Bedford [even Plymouth] to face higher bailiff charges) "....Bedford Borough Council uses bailiffs to recover council tax and business rate debts. In 2012/13, the authority referred more than 5,000 council tax cases and around 400 business rate cases to bailiffs. However, in a major change to the system, the Government is raising the fees payable by debtors from £24.50 to £310, a 1,165 per cent increase. Bailiffs will also be able to levy 7.5 per cent of the value of any goods seized of more than £1,500, limiting the ability of residents to pay what they owe...."

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  • david24767  |  February 14 2014, 9:12AM

    Does ANYONE understand the difference between "WON'T PAY" and "CAN'T PAY"? I am unemployed & struggling to find a JOB! I have been declined the opportunity, due to 1) my age 2) distance I am willing to travel (employer refused me an interview because THEY felt a 30 minute drive their place of business was unsustainable) 3) they (employers) want someone with YOUTH (who they can train THEIR way) & EXPERIENCE. How can you have BOTH??? I CANNOT afford to pay 30% of my JSA in council tax + mortgage + living costs. Due to our joint income, we claim TAX CREDITS, but this THEN puts us ABOVE the threshold for COUNCIL TAX BENEFITS. The Govt gives with one hand & takes DOUBLE with the other. How long before there is a revolution here as in middle east countries or even OTHER European countries like Spain & Greece?

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  • Plymouthking  |  February 13 2014, 11:49PM

    perhaps the herald should run a story on the FACT that Plymouth City Council do NOT have a published Debt recovery policy for non payment of council tax. Meaning, according to the Local Government Ombudsman no 'legal action' can be taken against anyone...if so - it would be VOID. Also why dont the herald fail to mention that the COUNCIL send out the summons and NOT the court and that the COUNCIL issue the Liability orders too...NOT the court...! But dont mention that the Council hire out the Magistrates court to hold the private quasi tribunals in a criminal VENUE, because admitting to the truth - can get you in trouble. No contract for council tax - you all pay it by consent and less than 30% actually goes to the 'council'...the rest is spent on their own pension funds. FACT..

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  • jrwagh333  |  February 13 2014, 7:31PM

    I have just signed the e-petition about my Council Tax bill http://tinyurl.com/o99oooq 'Repeal the Enforcement provisions of Committal to Prison for non-payment of Council Tax' and wanted to ask if you could sign too. The Government's recent welfare reforms mean that most adult citizens in this country will now be required to pay Council Tax. But what will happen if I continue to ignore my Council Tax bill or refuse to pay it? The answer from the Government:– 'If you're struggling to pay your Council Tax… If you can't come to a payment arrangement (or if you make arrangements to pay but don't), your council can ask the Magistrates' Court for a 'Liability Order'. This is a demand for you to pay the full amount you owe, plus costs… If you ignore the court order… Your council can send bailiffs to your home to seize property to sell… If your council has tried using bailiffs but your bill still isn't paid, they can apply to the Magistrates' Court for a warrant to send you to prison… If the court doesn't think you have a valid reason for not paying, it can send you to prison for up to 3 months.' https://http://tinyurl.com/pajgqpj England and Wales are the only countries in Europe in which a person can be sent to prison for not paying a local tax. There is no imprisonment for failure to pay Council Tax in Scotland. This campaign means a lot to us and the more support we can get behind it, the better chance we have of succeeding and changing the Law. You can read more at http://tinyurl.com/o9222tg and sign the petition here: https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/57160/signature/new Thank you!

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  • JETHROQUEUE  |  February 13 2014, 6:56PM

    One of the iniquities of the 'poll tax' when it was first introduced was the charge all those honest payers made to offset the losses by the 'non payers' & 'refuseniks' To my knowledge this charge still exists so if the outstanding amounts are not collected I don't think the council are too much bothered as they know they can slap it on what the honest payers pay next time, or am I being too simplistic.

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  • williamshydro  |  February 13 2014, 5:47PM

    Maybe, just maybe, the tax is to high for the people of Plymouth?

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  • Kobybill  |  February 13 2014, 3:59PM

    i should imagine a lot of those was because the council was being paid late! i myself paid every month on the 15th by standing order. the last couple of months i started to receive demands because i hadn`t paid. i ignored the 1st one because i knew i had paid. after i got the 2nd one saying i had lost the right to pay monthly because i was behind?!? i phoned them only for them to tell me that because i paid by standing order, they in fact received the payment a day late!!! i asked why i had not got them in the begining of the year as my S/O hadnt changed, they couldn`t answer me! all i got was an ignorant and grumpy person who didnt want to listen to me! how much money is wasted in sending out letters to those that pay regulary instead of chasing people who dont and wont pay at all??

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