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

The request was successful.

Dear Harrow Borough 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 Harrow Council have its computer software set to deal with non specific payments. Current or oldest year's liability?

Yours faithfully,

Gwyn Worth

Anna Batoryk,

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Information request
Our reference: 3623796

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Dear Ms. Worth
 
Thank you for your information request. We will forward it to the
relevant department who will contact you shortly.
 
Information Management Team
Harrow Council
Civic Centre, Civic 1
3rd Floor, West Wing
Station Road
Harrow
HA1 2XF
[Harrow Borough Council request email]

Anna Batoryk,

Information request
Our reference: 3623796

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Dear Ms. Worth
 
Freedom of Information Act 2000
 
Thank you for your request for information that was received on 8 October
2017.
 
We are dealing with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
and we aim to send a response by 3 November 2017 (which is 20 working days
beginning on the first working day after the date we received your
request).
 
In some cases, a fee may be payable.  If we decide a fee is payable, we
will send you a fee notice and we will require you to pay the fee before
proceeding with your request.
 
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 may restrict the release of some or
all of the information you have requested.  We will carry out an
assessment and if any exemptions apply to some or all of the information
then we might not provide that information to you.  We will inform you if
this is the case and advise you of your rights to request an internal
review and to complain to the Information Commissioner's Office.
 
We will also advise you if we cannot provide you with the information
requested for any other reason together with the reason(s) why and details
of how you may appeal (if appropriate).
 
 
Kind regards
 
 
Anna Batoryk
FOI Officer - Business Support
Resources
[email address]

Dear Anna Batoryk,

Response to this request is delayed. By law, Harrow Borough Council should normally have responded promptly and by 3 November 2017.

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

Anna Batoryk,

Dear Ms. Worth
 
Thank you for your email.
 
I am sorry for the delay in getting the response out to you, which was due
to unforeseen circumstances, annual leave and a backlog of work, which
included this case.
 
As the response has been received and approved, I will prepare and send
your reply out today.
 
Thank you for your patience, while you await your response.
 
Kind regards
 
Anna Batoryk
FOI Officer - Business Support
Resources
[1][email address]

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Dear Anna Batoryk,

Response to this request is delayed. By law, Harrow Borough Council should
normally have responded promptly and by 3 November 2017.

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

Anna Batoryk,

1 Attachment

Information request
Our reference: 3623796

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Ms. Worth
 
Thank you for your request for information received on 8 October 2017; and
for your patience while you have waited for Harrow's reply.
 
Please find attached our response to your request.
 
Kind regards
 
 
Anna Batoryk
FOI Officer - Business Support
Resources
[email address]

Dear Anna Batoryk,

Thank you for stating that unmatched payments would be ‘soft’ allocated to the 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.?

There is an optional rule which allows for any unmatched payments, after it has gone through 26 of the above rules, to be allocated to the current year however this is not used. In this scenario it would be ‘soft’ allocated to the oldest debt

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

Anna Batoryk,

Dear Ms. Worth
 
Thank you for your email.
 
I have referred your query to a senior manager in Housing Benefits for
further response.  We hope to get a response back to you shortly.
 
Regards
 
Anna Batoryk

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Dear Anna Batoryk,

Thank you for stating that unmatched payments would be ‘soft’ allocated to
the 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.?

There is an optional rule which allows for any unmatched payments, after
it has gone through 26 of the above rules, to be allocated to the current
year however this is not used. In this scenario it would be ‘soft’
allocated to the oldest debt

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

Anna Batoryk,

Dear Ms. Worth
 
Thank you for your email and an error in that email.  It should read
Revenues and not Housing Benefits.
 
I have referred your query to a senior manager in Revenues, for further
response.  We hope to get a response back to you shortly.
 
Regards
 
Anna Batoryk

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Anna Batoryk,

Thank you for stating that unmatched payments would be ‘soft’ allocated to
the 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.?

There is an optional rule which allows for any unmatched payments, after
it has gone through 26 of the above rules, to be allocated to the current
year however this is not used. In this scenario it would be ‘soft’
allocated to the oldest debt

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

Anna Batoryk,

Dear Ms Gwyn
 
Further to your query below, please see a further answer from Revenues
department for your information:
 
In the case of R. v Miskin Lower Justices (1953) it was held that where an
amount obviously relates to a specific liability it would be an
unwarranted assumption to allocate the payment elsewhere. If the amount of
the payment identifies the debt then it must be allocated to that debt.
The Council’s Council Tax software applies a number of complex rules when
allocating payments by matching it against various criteria. It is only
where the payment cannot be allocated using one of these rules it is
allocated to the oldest debt.  

There is no Council Tax regulation which relates to the allocation of
payments received and it is accepted practice that where there is no
indication from the debtor either expressed or implied, then the creditor
may apply the payment as they see fit. There is no resource to contact
debtors who make payments which fail the multiple rules to check where
they intended the payment to be allocated however where contact is
subsequently made, then generally the monies will be reallocated as per
the debtor request.

Kind regards
 
Anna Batoryk
FOI Officer - Business Support
Resources
[1][email address]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Anna Batoryk,

Thank you for stating that unmatched payments would be ‘soft’ allocated to
the 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.?

There is an optional rule which allows for any unmatched payments, after
it has gone through 26 of the above rules, to be allocated to the current
year however this is not used. In this scenario it would be ‘soft’
allocated to the oldest debt

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

show quoted sections

Dear Anna Batoryk,

Thank you for clarifying my query. I consider Harrow Borough 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 indicating that there are no measures in place to ensure that unspecified payments are allocated to the account which it is least burdensome for the debtor (other than relying on customer contact) 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).

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth

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