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Council Tax Summons costs

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Dear North East Lincolnshire Council,

I would like the council to disclose some information to supplement its Council Tax Court Summons calculation which is published on the Nelincs website. https://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council-tax/w...

Summons cost calculation 2016/17 (XLS)

You will probably appreciate that the figures presented would only be any use to an observer if they were referable to the work carried out.

For example it is apparent that the overall budget for Debt Recovery (A0187) is £538,632 and AT LEAST 58% of that is deemed by the council to be attributed to work involved in obtaining the liability order (Direct costs only). It would be needed to be known what work is carried out so it could be justified that the majority of the Debt Recovery budget falls within activities which can legitimately be recharged to council taxpayers through a claim of costs. Equally it would be useful to know what work is carried out which is attributable to the remaining Debt Recovery budget which would presumably be less than 42% of the overall budget.

It would also be useful for it to be explained why there are no costs attributable to the Debt Recovery and Control & Monitoring budgets in respect of Liability Order costs [*]. Again, it would be needed to be known what work is carried out which is attributed to the Council Tax and Control & Monitoring budgets.

[*] See North Lincolnshire Council's calculation which is clearly produced from the same template https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/4...

Yours faithfully,

Josh Reynolds

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Sir / Madam

I am pleased to acknowledge your request for information, which has been allocated the reference number NELC/8608/1718.

Your request has been passed to the relevant department for processing and you can expect your response within the 20 working day limit. If it will take us longer than 20 working days to respond to you, we will inform you of this and provide you with the expected date for receiving a response.

Further information about how we will deal with your Freedom of Information requests is available on our website at:
https://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council-infor....

Please feel free to contact me if you require any further information or assistance quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely

North East Lincolnshire Council

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PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Sir / Madam

Thank you for your information request, reference number NELC/8608/1718.

In order to be able to consider your request we require some further clarification from you.

Please can you confirm what recorded information or documents held by North East Lincolnshire Council you wish to access. The Freedom of Information Act (2000) gives individuals and organisations the right of access to all types of recorded information held, at the time the request is received, by public authorities such as North East Lincolnshire Council. For example, a Freedom of Information request would be for a copy of a policy, rather than an explanation as to why we have that policy in place.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the 20 working days allowed for responding to your request will not begin until the clarification is received.

Please quote the above reference number in all your correspondence.

Please feel free to contact me if you require any further information or wish to discuss this matter.

Yours sincerely

North East Lincolnshire Council

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Dear PPD - FOI,

I have been reliably informed that a request is valid under the Freedom of Information Act, if what is requested is described ie it does not necessarily have to be a request for specific documents, see the ICOs guidance.

"Any genuine attempt to describe the information will be enough to trigger the Act, even if the description is unclear, or you think it is too broad or unreasonable in some way. The Act covers information not documents, so a requester does not have to ask for a specific document (although they may do so). They can, for example, ask about a specific topic and expect you to gather the relevant information to answer their enquiry. Or they might describe other features of the information (eg author, date or type of document)."

The information I am requesting must presumably be recorded because the council has been able to attribute specific percentages of the budget to activities undertaken by staff.

Yours sincerely,

Josh Reynolds

Dear PPD - FOI,

Will you please confirm whether my 23 March 2018 correspondence provided sufficient information for you to proceed with this request.

Yours sincerely,

Josh Reynolds

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Sir / Madam

 

Thank you for your information request, reference number NELC/8608/1718. I
wish to confirm that North East Lincolnshire Council

holds the following information:

I can advise that that from the 42% of the overall budget for Debt
Recovery that 7% is attributed to Business rates recovery and the further
35% is attributed to other debt management duties, including recovery of
Housing Benefit and Sundry Debts.

The cost driver for summons costs is salaries. This is inclusive but not
limited to, payment arrangements, general account monitoring, call
handling, setting up of payment plans, taking payments, setting up direct
debits, cash receipting. We also have to include postal costs, costs for
court applications, officer’s time attending court. This costing also
incorporates the back office functions required to support the service
such as IT systems and control, training time etc.

With regards the average number of summons issued, I can confirm that this
figure is an estimation based on actual accounts being summonsed minus
those that we estimate are withdrawn. Cases could be withdrawn due to such
reasons as the awarding of Benefit / Council Tax Reduction, the awarding
of exemptions or change of circumstances, therefore excluded from the
total receiving a charge.

If you believe that your request for information has not been handled in
accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, you have the right to
request an internal review by the Council. Please be clear about which
elements of the Council’s response or handling of the request you are
unhappy with, and would like the Council to address during the internal
review process.  If following this you are still dissatisfied you may
contact the Office of the Information Commissioner. If you wish to request
an internal review, please contact me and I will make the necessary
arrangements.

 

Yours sincerely

 

North East Lincolnshire Council

 

 

 

 

 

Dear PPD - FOI,

 

I have been reliably informed that a request is valid under the Freedom of
Information Act, if what is requested is described ie it does not
necessarily have to be a request for specific documents, see the ICOs
guidance.

 

"Any genuine attempt to describe the information will be enough to trigger
the Act, even if the description is unclear, or you think it is too broad
or unreasonable in some way. The Act covers information not documents, so
a requester does not have to ask for a specific document (although they
may do so). They can, for example, ask about a specific topic and expect
you to gather the relevant information to answer their enquiry. Or they
might describe other features of the information (eg author, date or type
of document)."

 

The information I am requesting must presumably be recorded because the
council has been able to attribute specific percentages of the budget to
activities undertaken by staff.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Josh Reynolds

 

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Dear PPD - FOI,

Thank you for providing the information. However, I am now in need of some clarification.

I have identified what may be a mistake regarding the figure (42%) which is attributed to Business rates recovery and 'other debt management duties' of 7% and 35% respectively.

It is likely that there are costs within the Debt Recovery budget, additional to summons costs which are specifically attributed to the cost of producing a liability order (perhaps 10%) which is absorbed but not itemised. That is why in my request I emphasised that AT LEAST 58% of the overall Debt Recovery budget is deemed by the council to be attributed to work involved in obtaining the liability order. In practice then the remaining amount queried would be less than 42% (perhaps 32%).

In light of this I would like the council to look again at the amounts specified with the focus suggested to be on the Business rates and other debt management (7% and 35%)

The response omits to disclose information that the council obviously holds which is vital for the research I am carrying out. The first is in respect of 'other debt management duties' additional to the 'recovery of Housing Benefit and Sundry Debts' which makes up 'the further 32%' (perhaps to be revised) of the Debt Recovery budget. Secondly, it is important to know what activities have not been included in respect of the costs attributable to salaries for summons costs ('this is inclusive but not limited to' refers).

It is also apparent that the approach taken to include in the calculation an estimated figure of accounts summonsed based on actual accounts, minus an estimate of those withdrawn, artificially inflates the costs. It is not reasonable in any sense to spread the cost of producing those summonses, which have been withdrawn for any reason, among those who receive a charge. It is perversely those who drive the activity which causes the majority of the cost for the council in terms of 'payment arrangements, general account monitoring, call handling, setting up of payment plans' etc. etc. who are spared receiving a charge.

There is an element that has not been addressed which concerns why there are no costs attributable to the Debt Recovery and Control & Monitoring budgets in respect of Liability Order costs (as in the case of North Lincolnshire Council)

Lastly, I am still unsure what work is carried out in terms of the three distinct budgets.

Yours sincerely,

Josh Reynolds

Dear PPD - FOI,

I have spotted a mistake in my previous email. Although it may appear insignificant it potentially could cause confusion.

The following is what I intended (note 35%):

[The response omits to disclose information that the council obviously holds which is vital for the research I am carrying out. The first is in respect of 'other debt management duties' additional to the 'recovery of Housing Benefit and Sundry Debts' which makes up 'the further 35%' (perhaps to be revised) of the Debt Recovery budget. Secondly, it is important to know what activities have not been included in respect of the costs attributable to salaries for summons costs ('this is inclusive but not limited to' refers).]

Yours sincerely,

Josh Reynolds

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Sir / Madam

 

Thank you for your further correspondence regarding information request
reference 8608_1718. I can confirm that North East Lincolnshire Council
holds no further information in relation to your request. The queries you
have raised are relating to interpretation of the information and debate
over the application of costs, neither of which are requests for recorded
information held by North East Lincolnshire Council. All information held
has already been provided.

 

If you believe that your request for information has not been handled in
accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, you have the right to
request an internal review by the Council. Please be clear about which
elements of the Council’s response or handling of the request you are
unhappy with, and would like the Council to address during the internal
review process.  If following this you are still dissatisfied you may
contact the Office of  the Information Commissioner. If you wish to
request an internal review, please contact me and I will make the
necessary arrangements.

 

Yours sincerely

 

North East Lincolnshire Council

 

 

 

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Dear North East Lincolnshire Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of North East Lincolnshire Council's handling of my FOI request 'Council Tax Summons costs'.

It is inconceivable that the council holds no further information in relation to my request.

The discrepancy identified regarding the "Business rates and other debt management (7% and 35%)" would clearly satisfy the Commissioner that on the balance of probabilities the council would hold further information about this.

The same would apply to the other aspects, particularly about 'what activities have not been included in respect of the costs attributable to salaries for summons costs' (original response). This information must categorically be held. It has been stated for example in the most recent breakdown of costs (2018/19) that there is expenditure attributable to staff dealing with the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.

https://www.nelincs.gov.uk/wp-content/up...

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/c...

Yours faithfully,

Josh Reynolds

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Sir / Madam

I am pleased to acknowledge your correspondence and wish to confirm that an Internal Review of the handling of your Information Request NELC/9302/1819 is to take place.

The Internal Review has been passed to the relevant department for processing and you can expect your response within the 20 working day limit. If it will take us longer than 20 working days to respond to you, we will inform you of this and provide you with the expected date for receiving a response.

Further information about how we will deal with your Freedom of Information requests is available on our website at: https://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council-infor....

Please feel free to contact me if you require any further information or assistance quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely

North East Lincolnshire Council

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PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Sir / Madam 

Further to your request an Internal Review has taken place into North East
Lincolnshire Council's handling of your information
request NELC/9302/1819, concerning Council Tax Summons costs.

I have reviewed the response provided to you and the handling of your
request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and find:

o That your request was responded to within the statutory time of 20
working days;
o That you were informed whether or not the information you asked for
was held by North East Lincolnshire Council;
o That you were provided with the information you asked for available
under the Freedom of Information Act;
o That your response provided you with your rights of appeal. 

I am therefore satisfied that the Council has acted in accordance with the
Freedom of Information Act in the handling of your request. 

I am satisfied that North East Lincolnshire Council have provided you with
all relevant information we hold in relation to this matter.  Within your
request for internal review you have not specifically stated what
additional recorded information you require, therefore I am unable to
respond to this element any further. Whilst officers have attempted to
assist as much as possible it is evident that North East Lincolnshire
Council does not hold the level of information to meet your expectations.

I trust that this Internal Review answers your queries in relation to your
request, and clarifies that your request has been handled in accordance
with the Freedom of Information Act. 

If you remain dissatisfied with the Council’s handling of your request, or
the decision of the internal review you can request an independent review
by contacting the Information Commissioner's Office at Wycliffe House,
Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely

 

North East Lincolnshire Council

 

 

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