Ensuring customers are not subject to unnecessary recovery action, additional costs or hardship
Dear Gloucester City 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 Gloucester City Council have its computer software set to deal with non specific payments. Current or oldest year's liability?
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Please find below Gloucester City Council’s response to your request for
Q. How does Gloucester City Council have its computer software set to deal
with non specific payments. Current or oldest year's liability?
A. Gloucester City Council has is set to oldest year’s liability.
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Thank you for stating that 'Gloucester City Council has is set to oldest year’s liability'.
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  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.?
Apologies for the delay in response.
I have checked with colleagues in the relevant department and have been told that whilst the system posts cash etc to the oldest debt, we have staff who daily check these posting to establish whether the payment specifically relates to another years debt and if so will reallocate that payment.
I hope this helps.
Re; "we have staff who daily check these posting to establish whether the payment specifically relates to another years debt and if so will reallocate that payment."
It is not clear from the above whether the council would transfer the payment if it considered it to be in the customer’s interest, for example to avoid further costs.
The payment will normally be posted to the oldest account unless the amount is a specific one and relates to a single amount or a multiple of instalments, which may be in the debtors interests in avoiding further recovery costs.
It is not a given that any amount receipted would automatically be posted to an account where recovery action is imminent as this could mean we have misappropriated the payment.
I hope this helps.
Thank you for your response. I consider Gloucester City 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 (under all circumstances) 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.