To hope that someone can help me with this council tax issue before I cry?(27 Posts)
It's long. Get a cuppa. Posting here for traffic really. Please be gentle, I KNOW we were twats to get in arrears etc, I don't need to hear it again. I just need to know what the hell to do and what my rights are, or even if anyone can help/protect our interests.
Some back story - mid-2006, my now husband was made redundant (we didn't get married till 2009). His company had gone bankrupt and we had to claim unpaid wages etc via the Inland Revenue. A month or two later our first child, DD, was born, she was premature and very sick and I suffered really badly with postnatal depression. At the time we were in receipt of statutory maternity pay, and DH got 6 months Contribution based jobseekers. He was then not entitled to Income Based JSA as apparently my maternity pay, and subsequently sick pay as I was signed off with the depression, took us over the threshold. We were given bad advice by the Jobcentre, they told us we were not entitled to the £500 surestart baby grant (we should have got it) and told us we would not be entitled to any Council Tax Benefit, as we were not in receipt of IBJSA (I think we should actually have got some help). So, we claimed what tax credits we were entitled to and really struggled to pay everything ourselves (we had insurance to cover the mortgage).
And yes, I know, benefits/entitled attitude blah blah blah - We never wanted to be in a position where we would rely on benefits and DH was applying for every job he could, we live in an area with high unemployment and his qualifications are quite specialist and he was either losing out to more qualified folk, or being told he was overqualified to stack shelves and would just leave for a better job, etc. We needed some short term help and will, over our working lives, pay far more into the system, I am sure.
We got into a bit of a mess and fell behind with the council tax, we set up a direct debit to pay it back, but the council then decided that we were not paying the arrears fast enough and took us to court. My husband finally got a job at the beginning of 2008, but we had one Liability Order made in Feb 2008 and another in Dec 2008 for council tax outstanding. The accounts were sent to bailiffs. We made an arrangement with them and paid off the accounts in full,wemade the last payments in Feb 2011 and received a letter from the bailiffs confirming the accounts were paid in full, with copies of our accounts showing all payments.
Since that time our council tax statements (current) have shown an 'outstanding balance not included in this years charges'. We have phoned and queried this several times and been assured that it related to the bailiffaccounts that had just not been finalised, and not to worry about it.
Today I have received two letters from the council entitled NOTICE OF LIABILITY ORDER. One is for £98, one for £175 so £273 total. They say they relate to the same reference numbers as the liability order accounts we believed we had paid in full. On querying with the council I was first of all told it was council tax benefit being reclaimed, I told them this was rubbish as we had never claimed CTB. Then I was passed to a manager who seems to think that their accounts department made an error, in 2009, thinking payments we were making for the current years council tax should have been allocated to the historic accounts, gave an instruction to the bailiff to reduce our account by that amount, then realising it was a current payment, reallocating to the current year but not updating with the bailiff??
I have been through the accounts and there is one credit of £90 that is referenced ARREARS CR on ONE of the accounts. At the top this is referenced as 'Credits (Invoices)', separately from 'Receipts' (ie, what we paid them). No other credit amounts can be found.
Our arrears totalled £630. We paid the bailiffs, in total, £1053. The rest was their
totally unfair and extortionate but what the hell could we do fees.
I just don't know what to do. I can't see that the full £273 can possibly be payable, but to be honest we would struggle even to find £90 (which is all I can find that MIGHT be erroneous credits) in 14 days. The letters say if we don't pay they will be instructing bailiffs again, which will mean more charges. I thought this was all over, we have a very tight budget but we are coping and on our feet and then this. If it was their error, do we have an argument for them to write it off? If not, can we legally require them to let us pay in installments?
I've just been put back on antidepressants and I just can't cope with this all over again, I want to cry.
Thanks if you made it through, I hope it all made sense, I'm really frustrated and upset.
OK. Firstly, calm down as they have clearly made errors and you have paperwork stating that all monies have been paid.
Advise the Council that you expect them to advise precisely what is owed and why and how the mistakes were made and insist that they do not proceed with Bailiffs until this has been done and you have agreed it. Tell them you will be speaking to Citizen's Advice. Try to make an appointment with Citizen's Advice too.
Now, also find out the name of your local councillor/council rep and make a huge fuss. Tell the council you will speaking with your local councillor.
Try not to get upset. You need to be Ms Tough!
Oh, I know who my councillors are. They are fucking useless. I ran against them in April and sadly lost. I wouldn't ask them for help changing a tyre! My MP is fucking useless too. I may go straight to my AM.
I'm just freaking out because if it were due to go back to court we could obviously show all our evidence to the magistrate, but they seem to be saying that as an order has previously been made they can jump straight to bailiffs/attachment of earnings without even having to prove the debt.
That seems a bit dubious to me but I'm not an expert. Surely they have to prove you owe it?
I think the point they're making is, they went to court and proved I owed it in 2008, which at the time I did. But we've paid and paid and paid, and they now seem to have magicked these 'arrears' out of their arse -but because a magistrate has already decreed that we have to pay it, they bypass court and go straight to a bailiff. Even though we've paid.
This is why I feel like I'm banging my head on the desk!!
You need to write to them and ask for a full statement of:
All monies owed to them since you fell behind.
All payments made since you started to sort it out.
Until you have that you cannot tell what is owed properly.
If the balance they are claiming is for a reclaimed council tax benefit then the liability order won't cover this as the debt didn't exist at the time the LO was granted by the Magistrates court. They would need to send a new summons for the reclaimed CTB and tell you the period it covers.
It's worth asking for a full breakdown of each years debt and how the payments you have made, either to the council or to the bailiff, have been allocated.
Most local authorities will use a system of oldest debt first if you make a payment EXCEPT if the payment you make exactly matches the payment due on an instalment plan. So, for example, if you have arrears of £200 but are keeping up with this years instalments of £90 per month if you make a payment of £90 with will be allocated to the current years bill, but if you make a payment of £50 this will be offset agains the oldest debt first. (Hope this makes sense!)
In your position I would get a face to face meeting with the Council Tax manager. Get him/her to bring a full statement of your account including fees and charges and payments you have made for the whole period. You should take details of all of the the payments and bills/demands you have made and received from the council and the bailiff company. If it's to do with reclaimed CTB then I would be asking why it's been reclaimed, why you weren't advised and how you appeal the decision.
You should definately ask the CT Manager to be put the liability order on a pending stage while they investigate so that the bailiffs don't get involved. I agree that you should contact your MP and local councillors. Basically make a big fuss and be a PITA until you get to the bottom of it. It sounds as though they have no idea why there's a balance on your account and are winging it by trying to confuse you - don't let them, keep asking questions and demand answers.
This is kind of "my" area, and bits of what you say are making sense - apart from the bit where the bailiff wrote to say your accounts are clear and then you got further liability orders for the £98 and £175. A liability order is issued after a summons, and only once - if you have a new order you must have been summonsed again? Sometimes you can be summonsed more than once in a financial year - maybe you cleared previous summonses and these are new? (clutching at straws).
As an example of what can happen lets say you may have fallen behind by June 2010, been summonsed for £200 and received a liability order for that amount and made arrangements to pay that - BUT if you don't pay July onwards IN ADDITION TO the arrears you may be summonsed again if you don't keep payments up to date (sometimes people believe that the arrangement with the bailiff covers all the debt - not saying that you did this, but a lot of people are confused with the various payment arrangements they make).
I would advise you to go to your local office, or if that isn't possible write in and ask for a written explanation for how the balances have accrued. Without a clear explanation you can't really take things further, you need to have all the facts before you consult CAB (or similar). Good luck!
crossed with Waspie (do we work together Waspie?!!)
you might have a case of maladministration and be able to take it up with the local government ombudsman.
Hi BearPear I haven't worked in revs & bens for a long time so probably not but it's good to hear that we're on the same wavelength for the OP
op little bit of council tax legislation that may be very helpfull to you.
any none payment of ct to be chased by a court HAS to be "willfull and culpable"
this basicly means that if you havent paid a ct bill you have to have been culpable in the none payment.
so if they have just wacked on an ammout that they or agents acting on there behalf led you to belive you had paid then the ammount could be quashed by a court. but you would have to turn up and show your evidence payments ect
it dosnt happen very often but not many people make that claim.
It's not reclaimed ctb - we have never received ctb. The guy was just talking shite!
Bearpear they are definitely related to the same LO - the references match, the dates match.
Sock, that's helpful to know, thank you.
They are ringing me back tomorrow.
The reference will remain the same - it "belongs" to you and won't change unless you move (or occasionally if your liability changes in some way, ie one of you moves out)
It all seems a bit confused, you need a complete explanation - without seeing your paperwork I don't think we are being fair to you by saying it could be (a) or (b).
No, each liability order had a ref that was matched by the related account with the bailiff (that we cleared). Completely separate to our council tax reference number.
chances are the ct people will compleatly ignore the culpability issue and try and tell you otherwise.
i only know that because one of the ladys i employ is a ct wizz and so far this year has gone to court with 3 clients who were able to use that arguement and all 3 had the debt wiped one was for 5k.
she was the person named on the bill she transfered the money to her now exh to pay it,he hid the post and lied to her (at the same time as battering her for years) she only found out he had never paid it after she got rid of him.
the majistrates agreed that we was neither willfull nor culpable and wiped it leaving her with a clean slate.
the other 2 ammounts were no where near as high nor as exciting just bog
standered ct error.
but you do apsolutly have to have tried to resolve it outside of court first or you end up having costs ect added
I would phone the local office and ask them to trace the payments as maybe they are stuck in some suspense account waiting to be matched. If the reference was not exact, councils have a habit of just putting stuff to one side until someone shouts loudly. If you have all the paperwork, ask for copies of the summons as I don't think they could ask for a liability order without it.
From what you're saying, OP, the payments you've made to the bailiff haven't all been put to your account. i'd speak to the bailiff company and ask them for a breakdown of the debt they were passed by the CT office, the charges they put on and the payments you made. Ask them to confirm that they returned the LOs to the council as paid in full.
As toriap2 says the payments may have gone "missing" in either the bailiffs suspense account or one of the councils. But if you know the payments you have made and the bailiffs agree the LO was paid in full then the council are going to have to look into this properly and not just grasp at straws like the reclaimed CTB nonsense.
Sockreturningpixie - the term willful and culpable neglect is for people who can afford to pay but chose not to. There was a lot of this during the poll tax years when people were making a political statement. They would allow themselves to be summonsed for non-payment and then come to the LO hearing and, sometimes with the aid of a McKenzies friend, argue that the LO shouldn't be made because the legislation is unjust.
In the OP's case the debt is disputed, she's not saying that she won't/can't pay, she's saying that she's already paid. Also the council say that they already have an LO for the amount so there is no court case at which she could turn up and argue willful and culpable neglect. There are some valid defences against a liability order (e.g. property should be exempt, person summonsed is not the liable party etc) but simple non-payment is not classed as a valid reason.
The next court hearing where the OP could turn up and speak to the magistrates would be for committal action. To get to committal stage, where it's possible for the magistrates to write off debt for those in financial straits, the council have to prove that all other avenues have been explored to collect the debt. These avenues include bailiff action and distraint which the OP wants to avoid as it's so costly. This is not a good route for the OP to follow. It's much better to deal with it now IMO.
OP -take all paper work down to your nearest Citizen's Advice, take a book, you might have to wait a while but it's worth it, plan to spend a couple of hours there.
Ime they have been excellent in sorting out a friend's council tax arrears - she also had problems with the fact all sorts of info was wrong on her forms. They also contact bailiffs on your behalf and get them off your back so you can sort it all out.
I have been very impressed with them. Good luck!
Thank you all for your input and advice, it genuinely helped calm me down.
I'm still not entirely sure what the hell has happened, though I'm told the amounts are actually outstanding and they've had all the payments from the bailiff. However they clearly realise they've dropped a bollock as ice just had a phone call to say the section manager has authorised the amounts to be written off. We should have written confirmation if this by next week. Relieved doesn't cover it!!
Glad to hear it OP. Make sure you record the details of the conversations you've had, and chase them for the written confirmation. Councils fuck up all the time like this I'm afraid.
please dont get into a tizz about this- please!
step 1, get a folder
step 2, file correspondance annualy
step 3, write a bullet point list of payments made/what happended
step 4, condense it (this helps as makes you remeber the story and its easier to discuss it)
step 5 condense even further (so an idiod would understand), and send a letter
it will be OK, they have made a mistake it appears, people do
do not get into a panic xx
Good news OP. They clearly know that they've fucked up somewhere but at least they're putting it right pretty quickly (unlike some I've heard of). Glad it's worked out for you.
Join the discussion
Please login first.