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

Gwyn Worth made this Freedom of Information request to Northumberland County Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence. Contact us if you think it should be reopened.

The request was successful.

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

Yours faithfully,

Gwyn Worth

Northumberland County Council

1 Attachment

Our Ref: 3224  

Dear Enquirer,

INFORMATION REQUEST

Thank you for your request for information which will be dealt with under
the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 / Environmental
Information Regulations 2004.

In some circumstances a fee may be payable and if that is the case, we
will let you know the likely charges before proceeding.

If you have any queries about this matter please contact us. Please
remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Kind regards

Information Governance Office
Northumberland County Council
County Hall
Morpeth
Northumberland
NE61 2EF

Tel: 0345 600 6400
Email: [Northumberland County Council request email]
Web: http://www.northumberland.gov.uk

Northumberland County Council

1 Attachment

Our Ref: 3224   

Dear Enquirer,

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST 

I refer to your Freedom of Information request in relation to unnecessary
recovery action, additional costs or hardship.

Right of Access 

Section 1(1) of the Act provides any person making a request for
information to a public authority is entitled. 

(a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds
information of the description specified in the request (which Section
1(6) of the Act designates as the "duty to confirm or deny"), and 

(b) if that is the case, to have that information communicated to him. 

The right is to obtain access to the information itself and not to the
document or record which contains it. 

The Act creates a general right of access to information held by public
authorities subject to various exemptions. 

Northumberland County Council confirms that it holds the information you
have requested, please see the following information in response. 

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 Northumberland Council have its computer software set to deal
with non specific payments. Current or oldest year's liability?
Northumberland County Council has their software system set up so that
cast soft allocated to the oldest debt. This allows officers to easily
move the cash to current year if necessary.
Complaints 

If you are unhappy with the way your request for information has been
handled, you can request an internal review by writing within 2 months
from the date of this response to the Information Governance Office: 

Information Governance Office
Northumberland County Council
County Hall
Morpeth
NE61 2EF 

Email: [1][Northumberland County Council request email] 

Information Commissioner 

If you remain dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have a
right by Section 50 of the Act to apply to the Information Commissioner
for a decision as to whether your request has been dealt with in
accordance with the requirements of the Act at: 

The Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire 
SK9 5AF 

Tel: 01625 545 745
Email: [2][email address

There is no charge for making an appeal. 

Yours sincerely 

FOI Coordinator - Corporate Resources
Information Governance Office
Northumberland County Council
County Hall
Morpeth
Northumberland
NE61 2EF

Tel: 0345 600 6400
Email: [3][Northumberland County Council request email] 
Web: [4]http://www.northumberland.gov.uk 

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[Northumberland County Council request email]
2. mailto:[email address]
3. mailto:[Northumberland County Council request email]
4. http://track.vuelio.uk.com/z.z?l=aHR0cDo...

Dear Northumberland County Council,

Thank you for stating that Northumberland County Council has their software system set up so that
unmatched payments are allocated to the oldest debt (to allow cash to be moved to current year easily if necessary).

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 faithfully,

Gwyn Worth

FOI FOI, Northumberland County Council

Dear Gwyn,
We acknowledge receipt of your e-mail which we have forwarded to the area
which dealt with 3224.  They will contact you directly.
Regards,
Julia

Information Governance Office

(t) 0345 600 6400

(e) [1][email address]

Northumberland County Council

1 Attachment

Our Ref: 3224   

Dear Enquirer,

INFORMATION REQUEST 

I refer to your request for Information in which you asked:
Thank you for stating that Northumberland County Council has their
software system set up so that
unmatched payments are allocated to the oldest debt (to allow cash to be
moved to current year easily if necessary).

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.?
Please see the below response:
We do have measures in place to avoid unnecessary recovery action and
additional costs. The summons pre-lists are checked every month and
payments re-allocated where necessary.

Yours sincerely 

FOI/EIR Coordinator - Corporate Resources
Information Governance Office
Northumberland County Council
County Hall
Morpeth
Northumberland
NE61 2EF

Tel: 0345 600 6400
Email: [1][Northumberland County Council request email] 
Web: [2]http://www.northumberland.gov.uk 

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[Northumberland County Council request email]
2. http://track.vuelio.uk.com/z.z?l=aHR0cDo...

Dear Northumberland County Council,

I consider Northumberland County Council has provided the information I requested. 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's response (i.e. 'the summons pre-lists are checked every month and payments re-allocated where necessary') that there are measures in place to ensure that unspecified payments are allocated to the account which it is least burdensome for the debtor, and consequently the laws surrounding the appropriation of payments are being complied with. This effectively means that 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 by what I have stated I would appreciate if you would correct me.

Yours faithfully,

Gwyn Worth

FOI FOI, Northumberland County Council

Dear Mr Worth,
We have forwarded your comment on to the area which dealt with your
request, they will contact you directly.
Regards,

Information Governance Office

(t) 0345 600 6400

(e) [1][email address]

FOI.CorporateS Unknown, Northumberland County Council

Dear Gywn,
I have raised your query with the relevant officer and I can confirm that
you are correct in your understanding (and only if the payment cannot be
allocated using one of the allocation rules is it allocated to the oldest
debt).
Kind Regards,
--
FOI Corporate Services
Northumberland County Council

Dear FOI.CorporateS Unknown,

Thank you. I appreciate you replying.

Yours sincerely,

Gwyn Worth