#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.”

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

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Council Tax Cash Cow

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

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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??

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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.