Today was the day. Yes, it was my turn. My turn to be summonsed to Truro Magistrates Court for non payment of 2013/14 Council Tax. Now, let me be very clear as all the Politicians state…..
“I have NO problem with Council Tax and would happily pay it, ‘if’ I were working”
However, I am not. I am disabled. I have partial sight and Sponylosis to name a couple of my disabilities. As most of you know, last year alot of things changed under the WRA – Welfare Reform Act.
Council Tax Benefit was scrapped and under the Localism Bill powers were handed to Local Authorities to set up their own schemes. To be called CTS – Council Tax Support. So now ALL people of working age, have to contribute to Council Tax.
Whoaaa!!! Most of these people are on some kind of benefit, like myself. I get ESA, some are on JSA, some on IS and so it goes on. We are all expected to pay a certain amount from said Benefits, which, may I remind you all, on EACH and every Benefit Award Notice it clearly states, “This is the amount of money deemed by LAW that you NEED to live on”
I arrived in plenty of time. No sooner had I got there that Linda Ryan (Cornwall Council Recovery Officer) came straight up to me and said “I’ll be back to speak with you in a little bit” Hmm, I thought sounds ominous!!
Time went on and I was then called in to a little side room, with the same Mrs Ryan. She stated there isn’t a lot of point in us discussing things as I know you’ll want to speak to the Magistrates and I know how you feel about all of this”
First up, a lady that I had a brief chance to speak with before hand. Dear Soul, she felt so embarrassed and really didn’t know what to say. She said she only owed 50 odd pounds and had really struggled to pay that as her husband was disabled etc. I explained to her to simply say that she is finding it extremely hard and the costs etc would only make things worse.
After she had taken her ‘Oath’ (will come on to that in a mo) Mrs Ryan asked for Liability order etc, the poor lady who was very upset by it all explained her situation. The Magistrates were kind enough to agree that NO costs would be ordered, they thanked her for coming, (as they did all three of us that asked to speak) and then told her she had to pay the ‘actual balance of £17:?? within 21 days. With that she thanked me as she left the Courtroom.
Next in was a poor chap, wheeling his way through the many seats on his motorized scooter. I did hear him start talking to which the ‘Winger’ Magistrate questioned he hadn’t taken an Oath. The Clerk, Mr Paul Miles asked Linda Ryan if she wanted him to swear an oath, to which she replied, “no it’s ok, I am happy for him to continue”!!!
Again, similar circumstances, finding it very hard to pay last years, let alone this years. Many changes in Benefits had not helped his situation stated Mrs Ryan.
Result was that again NO costs at all were ordered. The Gentleman then struggled to make his way out of the room.
Now it was my turn.
“Michelle Kent” the Clerk called. I proceeded to hobble to the stand where we were told to be. Immediately I was offered to sit, which I gladly did as my back and neck were really giving me grief and guess who forgot to take some pain relief with her??? – I digress.
The Clerk then asked me which I prefer, to take an Oath or Affirmation. I replied, “Erm, that is the first thing I need to question. I have been in this building on several Council Tax Cases, along with Mr Adrian Waters (other Cornwall Council Recovery Officer) and not all Clerks insist people swear. Why was this?? Why today? Why now? Why me?” This obviously rattled him as very quickly he became all officious and spoke to me (but looking at the Bench) in a stern, slightly louder voice “….because, it could be very detrimental in how the Magistrates deal with you etc” I stopped him and said “Look, I have no problem taking an Affirmation, I just wanted to know why some do and some don’t.” I really feel that some Clerks use this as ‘scare tactics’ as there was NO Court Recorder present and NO transcript recorded. It’s such a shame that we are made to feel like Criminals.
Affirmation made, we continue….
Mrs Ryan stood, made her application to the Court. She said that I had “lots of change of circumstances and that I had not made any attempt to pay.” I was then asked if there was any thing I wanted to say….. Yay!! My turn.
First of all, I sent an email to the Court back on August 19th 2013. I had requested that ALL Magistrates were to be shown my email. Yep, you guessed it, they hadn’t seen it. I stated, whilst showing them this picture that things were reminiscent of 20+ years ago, when the Magistrates were saying ‘Don’t Blame Us’ etc. Well, Clerk Miles stopped me in my tracks as he rightly said, this wasn’t strictly to do with my case. I replied it was but I will move on to my next question……
“Please, if a Parliamentary answer given by Bridgit Prentice (Justice Secretary Feb 2009) shows that to raise a Liability Order costs only £3 then why were Cornwall Council charging everyone £20??” Mrs Ryan’s and Mr Water’s faces were a picture when Clerk Miles said, “I don’t know, let’s ask them”….. Guess why? Well, how about this, “Cornwall Council, charges £20 because of the numerous letters, stamps and follow up letter that they have to send out.” Get this!!!! She also stated that “her time and her wages were also part of the equation” Well, I was shocked by this and will write to Cornwall Council in due course!
I also mentioned about Cornwall Council NOT discussing their ‘Hardship Fund’ at Full Council and how it was capped to 50% if they were to help people. However, this Hardship Fund has changed for the coming year to the full 100% ‘if’ awarded.
And so to the clinker!!!!
I asked “Please can someone tell me why a Letter from my Solicitor dated November 8th 2013 to the Council was, to my knowledge never answered?” Clerk Miles allowed me to read out the Letter as the Council denied any knowledge of it…. it reads
“”….We write to request that the Local Authority uses it’s discretion as the Billing Authority under Section 13A(1) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 to reduce the amount payable in respect of our Client’s Council Tax Liability. The Local Authority has the discretion to reduce the amount payable as it sees fit and this includes a discretion under Section 13A(2) to reduce that liability to nil…..””
Again, the two Recovery Officers had no knowledge of the letter. I agreed that they could have my copy. It also transpires that ‘they’ the two CHIEF RECOVERY Officers, didn’t know that there is provision in the LG Finance Act 1992 to allow them to take such action!!!!!!
The Magistrates then granted the Liability Order but, they were pleased to tell me that NO SUMMONS OR LIABILITY ORDER COSTS would be added to further increase my debt. – Result!!
An application was then made to grant Liability Orders to the other 939 People ‘en bloc’, in their absence. “Granted” – with a smile!
Before I left the building, I spoke with both Recovery Officers, they both deny any knowledge that they (as a Council) are allowed to reduce the debt. Mr Waters said that he had never heard of it. So I have said to them, when you do find out, you can consider it for me!!
So, what’ll be next in store for me…….. Bailiffs? …..Attachment of ESA, which is what the Law deems I need to live on???
All this stress and being made to feel like a Criminal, for what? Aah, yes, this Government wanting to persecute the poorest, rather than go after the Tax Avoiders/Evaders or maybe look at their own MPs expenses!!!