Ensuring customers are not subject to unnecessary recovery action, additional costs or hardship

The request was successful.

Dear West Oxfordshire District Council,

A council taxpayer who owes more than just the current year's liability runs the risk of incurring additional recovery costs through a further application for a liability order if payments which are intended for the current year's liability are allocated by the council's computer to the previous year's liability. This would most likely happen where a non specific payment is made and the computer software is set to automatically allocate these payments to the oldest year's debt.

Councils computer systems have the necessary flexibility to be set to allow non specific payments to be allocated to the arrears or the current year's liability.

I understand that the majority of billing authorities have their computer software set to ensure that their customers are not subject to unnecessary recovery action, additional costs or hardship, i.e. so non specific payments are allocated to the current year's liability.

How does West Oxfordshire Council have its computer software set to deal with non specific payments. Current or oldest year's liability?

Yours faithfully,

Gwyn Worth

Ann Hilton, West Oxfordshire District Council

2 Attachments

Dear Gwyn

 

Please find attached the information you requested.

 

Regards

 

 

Ann Hilton

Corporate Planning and Performance Officer

 

 

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Gwyn Worth left an annotation ()

The main software used by our Revenues Team is Northgate.

When choosing where to allocate cash when there is more than one debt outstanding our Northgate revenues system goes through a comprehensive set of 26 conditional rules.

Only if none of the conditional rules are met is the final rule utilised and this can be set to either allocation to current debt or allocation to oldest debt. Alternatively it can be left unset and decisions made manually.

West Oxfordshire District Council has the final rule set to allocation to oldest debt.

Dear Ann Hilton,

Thank you for stating that 'West Oxfordshire District Council has the final rule set to allocation to oldest debt'.

Would you please confirm whether or not any measures are in place to check that allocating an unmatched payment to the oldest debt in these circumstances would have the consequences of putting the current year's liability also in arrears, and if so, in accordance with R. v Miskin Lower Justices [1953] 1 Q.B. 533, whether the payment would be moved in respect of the current year's account to avoid unnecessary recovery action, additional costs etc.?

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

Dear Ann Hilton,

Will you please acknowledge receipt of my 10 November 2017 request/clarification.

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

Ann Hilton,

2 Attachments

Dear Gwyn Worth

Many thanks for your communication of 10 November and apologies for the delay in response.

I have attached our original response to your Freedom of Information request under Our Ref RD17234.

I refer to the original response

"When choosing where to allocate cash when there is more than one debt outstanding our Northgate revenues system goes through a comprehensive set of 26 conditional rules. Only if none of the conditional rules are met is the final rule utilised and this can be set to either allocation to current debt or allocation to oldest debt. Alternatively it can be left unset and decisions made manually. West Oxfordshire District Council has the final rule set to allocation to oldest debt."

We are confident that the utilisation of the 26 conditional rules ensure that cash is allocated correctly.

Ann Hilton
Corporate Planning and Performance Officer

[email address]

Publica is a company wholly owned by Cotswold District Council, Forest of Dean District Council, West Oxfordshire District Council and Cheltenham Borough Council to deliver local services on their behalf.

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Dear Ann Hilton,

Thank you for clarifying your response. I consider that West Oxfordshire District Council has provided the information I requested, however, the purpose of this exercise was to ascertain whether or not the principles surrounding the appropriation of payments were being adhered to.

R v Miskin Lower Justices (1953)

It was held in R v Miskin Lower Justices, that where an amount obviously relates to a specific liability, it would be an unwarranted assumption to allocate the payment elsewhere.

If no instruction is given at the time of payment, then the council has a duty to allocate payment to the account which it is most beneficial to the debtor to reduce. That would be in the majority of cases the current liability if the consequences of allocating payment to the arrears meant that the customer was subject to unnecessary recovery action, additional costs etc.

I understand by the council being unable to confirm that there are measures in place to ensure that unspecified payments are allocated to the account which it is least burdensome for the debtor that the laws surrounding the appropriation of payments are not being complied with. If the laws of appropriation were being complied with, an unmatched payment allocated to the oldest debt (having the consequences of putting the current year's liability also in arrears) would be reallocated to the current year's liability on account of the circumstances implying that this was the debtor's intention (least burdensome for the debtor).

If it appears I have misunderstood anything from what I have stated above I would appreciate if you would correct me.

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

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