#CouncilTax Debt Collection And The Damage To Children

Email sent to Mrs Mary May my Local Councillor in Cornwall

“I’m writing to you as my local Councillor to ask you to protect children and teenagers from the damaging effects of council tax debt collection practices.

There are 12320 children living in 7115 families who have faced council tax debt in our area.

The Children’s Society report, “The Wolf at the Door” highlights how children and teenagers are feeling sad, frightened and worried after routinely coming face to face with bailiffs in their own homes, sent by the local council to demand sudden, unrealistic council tax payments.

Last year, 8176 bailiff referrals were made in Cornwall that’s the equivalent of 31 for every 1,000 households

The Children’s Society report “The Debt Trap” highlighted how a third of families in council tax arrears who sought help from their council found it not helpful at all, whilst their latest research shows that some councils are often demanding the full year’s council tax amount just 14 days after a family or young person misses their first monthly bill, pushing court summons or the threat of bailiffs soon after.

I know that councils are under huge pressure to ensure that as much council tax revenue is collected as promptly as possible, to allow the continued funding of vital services, however, the good practice examples in their report showed that councils can use less damaging techniques, protecting children from bailiffs and giving families time to get independent advice, whilst at the same time collecting more in council tax than the national average. We are encouraging more councils to adopt these practices and review their council tax collection policies to better protect children.

Please can you write to the Leader of the council, asking that Cornwall Council use less damaging collection methods. This would help families and young people get back on their feet – without fear and intimidation. Every child and teenager deserves to feel safe in their own home without being scared of the next knock at the door.

The Children’s Society has also produced an advice sheet to help you support your constituents who face council tax debt.

You can read the report, the advice note and find out more information about the Debt Trap campaign and the work of The Children’s Society by visiting http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-you-can-do/campaign-for-change/council-tax-collection-harm-children

I’d be very grateful if you could let me know what steps you will take to protect children and teenagers from the damaging effects of council tax collection practices. I look forward to hearing from you.”


Please click on the link and do the same for YOUR area.



Council Tax Criminal?

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!!!

Council Tax Cash Cow

Friday Nov 15th. More people summonsed to Court in Truro for non payment of Council Tax by Cornwall Council.


Court was very busy today, not with Council Tax but other cases too. ALL being summonsed for  a 2pm start. First thing I question is why? Why are the Council Tax non payers summonsed for afternoon sessions? Oh yes, that’s it, because they hope that should anyone wish to see the Magistrate then time isn’t on their side. You see they even put through the other cases first in the hope that people will get fed up waiting.

Putting that aside, I managed to speak to a few people that had turned up. I spoke to them before Cornwall Council ushered them in to the side rooms (which is commonplace all over the Country now). I managed to explain to them all just what to expect. How Cornwall Council would take them aside, get them to sign an ‘arrangement to pay’ and then tell them to be on their way. I told them by doing so they would end up with an extra £60 on top of their debt. They all were taken aback by this fact. None of them realised that they would still get the Liability Order.

Worse still, there was only ONE of them said that they knew about the Council Tax HARDSHIP FUND!! This is totally shameful on Cornwall Councils part. The hardship fund was put there to help the very people facing the Court!!

So, in to the Court we go. As per, Adrian Waters Recovery Officer from Cornwall Council takes his Oath. The Clerk Renee Galley asks Adrian Waters how many are to appear in Person, when he replied with three, the Magistrate let out an awful groan as if to say ‘really, that many?’. Sorry Love but if I had my way you’d be listening to ALL those summonsed, as is THEIR RIGHT!!

First up Mr Mc. Poor soul was crippled up with pain and it showed. He was told he could sit. Round of applause for the Clerk Renee Galley for showing a tiny bit of compassion, that was the last time we would see it.
Mr Mc. was summonsed for £44. That’s right JUST £44. It turns out that he ‘has not made payments in accordance to the schedule’. Poor guy was up to date! So now he was faced with his debt being more than doubled!! He pointed out that it had also cost him £5.90 in bus fare just to get there.

The Clerk is geting itchy because Mr Mc. wants to speak further, she asks him sharply “You are not denying Liability” the man said no he wasn’t but prior to Court, he was told to go to one of Cornwall Council’s ONE STOP SHOP. He explained that when he went, there was no one there!! He said “I am the poorest in society and I struggle to heat and eat. I also had no idea there was such a thing as a Hardhip Fund or a form for it.” Adrian Waters interrupts and states, they are not sent to everybody. Mr Mc. suggested that maybe they should have sent them to people on Benefits back in April!!
Mr Mc. Then starts to point at me and states ” I have laearnt more about Council Tax in 5 minutes from that lady than I have from the Council since April”.
With that the Magistrates said they have no alternative but to make the Liability Order. However, she did say that she would make NO order for costs. Adrian Waters hands Mr Mc a form for a hardship payment, with that the Clerk, Renee Galley, says to Mr Mc, “perhaps you would like to seek advice from that Lady after and she will help you!!”
I stood and said, “Excuse me but I am nothing to do with the Council, think you may have the wrong idea” Anyway, Mr Mc was told he could leave and perhaps go back to the One Stop Shop (Err, remember, he’d been there before only to find no one there)

As he left, Renee Galley leant forward and whispered to Adrian Waters, “Who is that woman?” I make no apology but ‘Hello Lady’, I am in the same room!!

I stood up rather abruptly and said, “Who me?? I am a Disability Rights Campaigner and I sit in on Council Tax Court Cases to witness what’s going on and try to help people where I can”. Adrian waters turned around and with a sarcastic tone said, “Thought you were hard of hearing” Cheeky man!! I replied that I was but because I had company I chose to sit where I did. ie not in the ‘reporters seats’ as I had done previously.

With that Cases 2 and 3 were heard, both similar sorts of things, both facing hardship. One had asked for an adjournment, no way were they going to allow that. It turns out that his Benefits were so messed up that he had been summonsed for far too much. he queried that if they grant the Liability Order, then it would be for an incorrect amount. The Clerk, led the Magistrates as per usual. The Council were not interested in talking until the LO had been granted. Adrian Waters said this was a Benefits issue and to sort it with them. The LO was granted and NO costs awarded. I do feel that the Clerk was a tiny bit more amenable now. Do you think it was because she knew I was watching and taking notes?? Although at this point it was clear the Bench wern’t even listening!!

As for the poor Couple whom I’d met before Court started, well because they had a small child they simply could not wait to be heard. Funny that eh!! Although, it was interesting that they told my friend Alex, they had been to the Constituency office of their MP about Council Tax. Only to be told by the MPs minions……..
“You are on Benefits so you shouldn’t be paying Council Tax”
Whoaaa There!!!!!!

Are we to believe that a certain MPs staff are not even aware of the changes made and that ALL people on Benefits now have to find some Council Tax???? It is dreadful if the MPs own staff don’t know what’s going on. It was because of this action that the Couple found themselves in Court and saddled with debt. They believed what came from an MPs office, so simply ignored the reminders etc. How can this be right? How many others have fallen foul of the same thing??


790 Liability Orders were granted to people today, all in their absence. 790 x £60 = £47400 ADDED to people’s debts. Debts that are only in Court because the majority of people can not afford to pay!! The whole thing is utter nonsense and Councils are raking in a fortune!

To conclude, I may have been in pain and question why I bother going but, today I helped 3 cases keep their costs to the bare minimum. So yes, the pain and anguish was worth it!!

See you next time – December 20th I believe.

‘My’ Welfare Reform

Some 18 months ago I became aware of something that I knew spelt trouble.

Welfare Reforms.

In particular, the Reduction in Housing Benefit. Now named the Bedroom Tax. The other one I took interest in was the Localisation of Council Tax.


I researched them long before April and tried to raise awareness by Social Media, emails and letters etc. Sadly, prior to April not that many were interested, apart from those it affected that is.

April came and went and 6 months on, I now find myself giving advice to people, night and day. It ranges from something very simple, to more complicated issues. I have had many a day (and night) where all I have spoke about is Bedroom Tax and/or Council Tax and other related Welfare issues.
There have been times when it feels like I have a mental burn out. I always try to help people where I can. Sometimes I find myself giving people debt counselling etc. and pointing them in the best direction to gain professional help.

There has, on more than one occasion been events which I find deeply disturbing. People are so low with all that’s going on, more than once I have been in the position where people are suicidal. What do you do? You can’t ignore them. Thankfully, having sought advice from MIND and the SAMARITANS these people live to see another day.

When you see that someone needs help, you offer what advice you can. Although it doesn’t happen often, one or two seem to think that you are theirs. They want you to step in and solve all their problems at once!

I am no longer affected by the Bedroom Tax but I will continue to fight for it to be scrapped and help those that are still suffering.

On reflection, the saddest thing of all, is that there are many people out there just like me. All doing exactly the same thing. Some are ‘Admins’ of Groups on Facebook, working tirelessly to help bring a little comfort to others. I tend to just ‘pick things up’ as I bumble along……. All of us, reaching out in any way we know how, just trying to pick up the pieces.


I’m no Counsellor, I’m not ‘trained’ for any of this…….
So many are suffering the effects of Welfare Reform and the Political Elite just haven’t got a clue!!

The Right To A Fair Trial

Again I feel I have to write about the abuse people are receiving when being unable to afford their Council Tax.
“Abuse, what abuse, they haven’t paid, so just who is abusing the system?” You cry…..

Well my Friends, The Authorities, that’s who is abusing the system!!

Council Tax has always been a burden to many, rich and poor alike. This year in particular, as many of the poorest, ie those on Benefits are having to face paying Council Tax for the first time. Under the new scheme, Council Tax Benefit has been replaced by Council Tax Support. They have to try and find an amount from their Benefits. That’s includes Unemployed, Sick and Disabled.

So, just how are the Local Authorities abusing the system? – I’ll tell you.

This is actually stated on Dover Council’s own website.
“Do I need to go to the court hearing?

You do not need to go to the court hearing unless you have a legal defence against the issue of a liability order. We are able to deal with any other concerns or queries you may have with you directly. You do not need to attend, however you may do so if you so wish.”


Another: Haringey

You do not have to attend the court hearing……..”

I could go on, showing you webpage after webpage but you get the drift.

Today it was the Turn of Southwark Council. Thousands had been summonsed to Camberwell Magistrates Court. To my knowledge the Council did everything to deter people from seeing the Magistrates.
They even had the arrogance to on paper to put in huge red bold letters “*IMPORTANT* You do not need to actually attend the Court”

I mean, How dare they?


How bloody dare they try and deter people from their access to Justice???

“What does that matter?” you ask. – First of all under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights ‘everyone’ has the right to a fair trial.

Second: The fact is, these people are being summonsed because they are poor and for what ever reason have not managed to pay their Council Tax. When a Summons is issued, there is a cost. When a Liability Order is issued, there is a cost. Now, ‘if’ the ‘accused’ (we’ll call them that for want of a better word) were to be given access to the Magistrates, then at least they could tell them their plight and how they came to be in this situation. They CAN ask the Magistarate if the Costs could be waived due to hardship etc, thus keeping the debt to it’s minimum.
The costs range throughout the Country. Here in Cornwall it’s £60 in total. In Haringey I believe it is the region of £125. It has been found that the cost to produce a Liability Order is just £3.00!!!
So by not explaining to the Magistrate, you then have this extra amount added to you bill.

The only ones who are benefiting from this are the Local Authorities, you do the maths!! They are making a massive profit off the backs ot the poorest!!!

So, to conclude ANYONE reading this, my advice to you is if you have been summonsed for non payment of Council Tax, you attend and when you get there don’t be fobbed off by the Council. It is YOUR RIGHT – USE IT!!!!!!

Council Tax In The Courts

On Friday of last week I became aware that in my own County of Cornwall there was to be a sitting of Court to deal with Council Tax Defaulters in the County. Over 1000 Summonses had been issued. Sad times indeed!


Upon my arrival at Truro Magistrates, I was greeted by the Security Guards who stated, “aah you are Michelle Kent, we were told to ‘expect’ you”

Hmm, what were they expecting? I am a 40 something half blind woman that was drugged up on Tramadol in order just to be able to go.

I would say at a guess a couple of dozen people turned up, they were ushered in to side rooms and Council Officials negotiated with them in order to make ‘an arrangement to pay’. Nearly all of these people left the Court building after this process.

Also Cornwall Council decided to Summons a DECEASED MAN!!! 

Anyway in to the Court we go. When entering Court number One, the atmosphere was chilling. Afterall Courts are not meant to be welcoming.

On the bench were Mrs Fiona Roberts JP  and (Winger) Mr Thomas. Clerk was Mr Paul Kinsley. The Cornwall Council Official Mr Adrian Waters (We shall refer to him as AW) was also present.

There was 4 other people, The security Guard, Myself, My Son and a Journalist.

Cornwall Council issued Council Tax procedures as such:

12/03/2013 Bills Issued

23/04/2013 Reminders

21/05/2013 Final Reminder

14/06/2013 Summons


First defendant (we shall call her JL) was called. She appeared frightened, I imagine it is probably the first time she has set foot in a ‘Court of Law’. We went through the norm of swearing on the Bible etc (as JL had no objection to that). Then the Clerk proceeded to tell the Lady that “…although defendants are allowed the right to speak, most don’t usually bother…”  Make of that what you will. The Cornwall Council (CC) Official (AW) then proceeded to be all officious and state why the Council was seeking a Liability Order. JL replied “I am on Benefits and it has all been so confusing as I had not recieved any other communication from CC etc. It is in the hands of my Support Worker and she is helping me.” Well, in the end, it was ordered that JL WAS Liable and that CC should communicate with the Support Worker to see if she was eligible for any ‘relief’. It was also ordered that JL should have her ‘costs’ waived as she was on Benefits. JL then left the Court shaking like a leaf.

CASE TWO: We will Refer to these as Mr.Mrs B.

All the usual took place, AW says he is seeking Liability Order and Mr B swears on the Bible. Mr B is looking far more confident than his wife who was now sat by herself on the other side of the room. It appears Mr and Mrs B are disputing the amounts and have lodged a complaint etc. He told the Court that his case was in the process of going to Tribunal. Now, after alot of to and fro’ing between the Clerk and Mrs Roberts it was so ordered that the Liability Order should be granted on the proviso that ‘if’ Mr and Mrs B’s Tribunal was sucessful then any monies paid shall be rembursed. It was determined that Mr and Mrs B were on Benefits and credit to Mrs Roberts, she did waive the costs. Now I am no ‘Legal Beagle’ ‘but’ can a Liability Order be granted if the case is in the tribunal process? I really felt with this one that Mrs Roberts wanted to adjourn but it was the Clerk that coerced her in to granting the order. Mr and Mrs B left with Mr B looking relieved but very disappointed.


We shall refer to the Defendant as Mr T. A Gentleman came in to the Courtroom but refused to go and stand in the ‘Doc’. We shall call him Mr Z. The Clerk was repeating himself over and over, “Are you the Defendant?” “NO, no I am not says Mr Z, I am Mr T’s representative so I do NOT have to go stand in any Doc. “but we need you to swear an Oath” says the Clerk. Mr Z replied, “This is MY Court you invited me here and I have to swear nothing” With that, Mrs Roberts said in a most assertive fashion “Actually, this is MY Court” (Really? since when?) Mr Z was very quick to retaliate, he asked her if she had sworn Oath as he hadn’t seen her do so. After a good 15 minutes of the Clerk trying to decide whether this was Mr T or not he told the gentleman to leave the Court! Several times in fact. By now the Security Guard was on his feet. he tried to hold the gentlemans arm to which the Gentleman declared ” Do NOT touch me or YOU will be arrested” It was getting very heated. The poor young Journo next to me put down her pen and sat well back in her seat. After several more minutes of the Clerk, Mr Z and the Security Guard all talking at once the ‘Panic Alarm’ was set off and 1 more Guard came in to  the room. The poor man, who I would say was late 50’s early 60’s was swiftly and forcibly ejected from the Court and carted away by the Local Constabulary as they (The Court) could not ‘establish his identity’. All very well ‘but’ as it happens, a letter was read out after by the Clerk. It stated that Mr Z would be there with ‘Power of Attorney’ to represent Mr T!!! It was a long letter and after much eye rolling from Mrs Roberts, the Clerk sat down. Had this letter been presented to the Magistrate before the fracas then the case could have been heard. Again, it seemed to me that the Clerk knew exactly what was happening and in my opinion he was partly to blame for Mr Z becoming upset. What was the result I hear you cry, well Mr T WAS granted a Liability Order in his absence!!

Now to the rest of people summonsed. The CC official stood there and asked for 1079 Liability Orders to be granted for non payment of Council Tax for 2013/14. Mrs Roberts nodded and agreed that the Orders were given ‘en bloc/masse’. Council Official duely made his thanks. He then started to  bundle up his papers and pack away.

With that I stood, made acknowledgement to Mrs Roberts and duely left the Courtroom.

So there you have it Council Tax In The Court.

I believe that EVERYONE summonsed for non payment of Council Tax SHOULD attend the Court and have their say. This is your right, don’t be afraid to use it!!