Generating income through Council Tax court costs to meet Government cuts

Stan Higgleston (Account suspended) made this Freedom of Information request to North East Lincolnshire Council

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

The request was partially successful.

Stan Higgleston (Account suspended)

Dear North East Lincolnshire Council,

In North East Lincolnshire Council's budget consultation 2011/12, the public were consulted over areas it would prefer to see cost reductions made by the Council in meeting the budget shortfall caused by the government's cuts.

Its website (below link) appears to indicates that in order to plug a gap in the council's finances it was put to the public that savings could be made if it introduced a charge for replacement bins or garden waste collections, or, increased the court costs it charged defendants for issuing a Council Tax summons.

http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council/consul...

"Income Generation

In relation to proposed areas for charging to be introduced [out of 242 respondents], 81 per cent favoured increased charges for summonses compared to 57 per cent who supported charging for replacement bins or garden waste collections. Only 15 per cent were not in favour of any charges being introduced."

Q. Would NELC please provide any and all recorded information, including that held on computers, emails etc., minutes of formal meetings of either Officers and / or Members together with any attendance notes taken by either Officers and / or Individual Members at any formal and / or informal meetings which is held by NELC and relates to the 2011/12 budget consultation with regard to the proposed "Income Generation" outlined above.

NOTE:

I would particularly like information relating to the advice given to respondents that they would need to make an informed decision, for example with regards to increasing summons that legislative restrictions would only allow this in instances where an additional administrative cost could be proved and increasing the costs purely on the basis that the public preferred this would be unlawful.

Yours faithfully,

Stan Higgleston

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Higgleston,

 

I am pleased to acknowledge your request for information, which has been
allocated the reference number 8779_1415.

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:
[1]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council/the-co....

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

 

Yours sincerely on behalf of North East Lincolnshire Council

 

Feedback Officer

Resources Directorate

 

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PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Higgleston

 

Thank you for your information request, reference number 8779_1415.

 

I wish to confirm that North East Lincolnshire Council holds the following
information.

 

The budget process in late 2010 and early 2011 included a series of public
meetings, a budget simulator interactive tool on the council’s website and
formal meetings of the council’s scrutiny panels and Cabinet. 

 

A budget consultation exercise (called the budget challenge) was
undertaken with the public and interested groups during November 2010,
prior to the presentation of the draft council priorities, budget 2011/12
and medium term financial plan for the period 2011-2015at Cabinet on 22^nd
December 2010.  This is the link to the council’s website page inviting
people to participate in the budget challenge.  The page includes some
general guidance on what the budget challenge was all about and how people
could get involved.

[1]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/news/2010/nov/...

 

The page will take you to links to the presentation given at community
meetings and also guidance on how to use the budget simulator.  The budget
simulator can be accessed from the text in blue towards the bottom of the
page that says ‘access the budget simulator.  It takes you to a website
called ‘youchoose’.  This is the information that was given to respondents
to enable them to make their choices. The tab that states ‘how we can
bring money in’ includes a tab on refuse collection, charges and fines.
The read more’ drop-down contains the following statement as guidance:

 

‘The council currently charges for some refuse collection services, such
as clinical waste and some household waste.  The council also issues fines
for littering and fly-tipping.  Additional charges could be introduced for
replacement bins or garden waste collections’.

 

There is also a tab for ‘increase court costs for summons and liability
order and Council Tax and Business rates debtors’. The ‘read more’
drop-down contains the following information as guidance:

‘Where a case of non-payment of Council Tax or Business Rates requires a
court summons the debtor is charged for summons issue (£32 for Council Tax
summons, £47 for Business Rates equivalent), then a further charge of £25
if a liability order is obtained.

Latest national information shows that the average cost charged by other
unitary councils for Council Tax summons is £57. the average liability
order cost is £21.

For Business Rates the average cost per summons is £81, liability order
£35

Our charges for Liability Order are above average but this is outweighed
by our low cost of summons.

In 2009/10 11,700 Council Tax summons and 1100 Business Rates summons were
issued.

We could increase summons cost to £70 with no costs for liability order,
bringing NELC into line with similar Authorities across the country.’

 

To the best of my knowledge this is the only guidance that was given to
respondents on these two matters related to potentially increasing income.

 

The Cabinet meeting on 22^nd December 2010 included at appendix 4 the MTFP
2010/11 to 2012/13 a line under savings proposals for income generation
and these are shown in more detail in appendix 5, under the income
generation heading. CS08 option B  refers to charging for bin replacement
and CS08 C refers to reducing winter green waste collections. BS10 refers
to increasing summons costs.

[2]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/committees/Fun...

 

The results of the consultation exercise were provided to this Cabinet
meeting in the draft budget report in section B of part one:

[3]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/committees/Fun...

 

The minutes of the meeting are here:

[4]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/committees/Fun...

 

Public scrutiny meetings were held during January 2011 to discuss the
budget proposals.  At the meeting of the Regeneration, Housing and
Environment panel on  19^th January 2011 there was discussion of the
proposals for waste management, collection and disposal.  Please see 
SPRHE.48 in the link  below:

[5]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/committees/Fun...

 

There are no minuted comments from elected members about proposal BS10 on
summons costs at these scrutiny meetings.

 

The draft budget was presented to Cabinet on 14^th February 2011.  The
consultation exercise is mentioned in the main report, in section 1.52

[6]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/committees/Fun...

Appendix 4 summarises the consultation of the scrutiny panels.  In the
latter both proposals  CS08 and BS10 are mentioned.

[7]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/committees/Fun...

 

The culmination of the budget process was with the Council’s budget being
agreed by full Council on 17^th February 2011 (see minute NEL181 in the
attached link).  The consultation of the public is mentioned in the third
paragraph, though no specific reference is made there to the proposed
income generation proposals CS08 and BS10.

[8]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/committees/Fun...

 

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 on behalf of North East Lincolnshire Council

 

Feedback Officer

 

Resources Directorate

 

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Stan Higgleston (Account suspended)

Dear PPD - FOI,

Thank you for your response.

No information was given to respondents regarding the potential for someone legally challenging the changes. For example the obvious front loading of the liability order costs which appeared justified because other authorities do similar should have been detailed as a 'Consequence'.

The council detailed in its draft report that if the summons costs changes were implemented, an additional £752,000 was estimated as the resultant income over 4 years. However, respondents were informed on the questionnaire that savings through this proposal would only be 33% of that figure (£247,000).

A similar underestimate was made with the option for Refuse collection, charges and fines.

I would like it clarifying why there was such disparity between the figures presented to the public and those presented in the council's draft budget.

Yours sincerely,

Stan Higgleston

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Higgleston

 

I am pleased to acknowledge your follow up request for information, which
has been allocated the reference number 8779_1415.

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:
[1]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council/the-co....

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

 

Yours sincerely on behalf of North East Lincolnshire Council

 

Feedback Officer

Resources Directorate

 

show quoted sections

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Higgleston

                      

Thank you for your request of 27th December 2014, seeking  clarification
of information  sent to you as a response to request number 8779_1415.

 

You asked for clarification as to why there were disparities between
figures presented to the public in its budget consultation from 15th
November to 3rd December 2010 and those presented in the Council’s draft
budget in December 2010.  The budget simulator that was used as one of the
consultation tools was put together in mid-October  2010 so that the
software could be populated and tested prior to going live on our website.
Whilst the consultation was taking place the council continued to refine
its budget proposals and inevitably some changes were made leading up to
the presentation of the draft budget to the Cabinet meeting on 22nd
December 2010.

 

In the case of proposal BS10 the figure of £247k was reduced to reflect a
likely recovery rate on invoices raised for the recovery of costs.

 

In the case of proposals CS08 and CS09 there were changes to the proposals
originally made and also to how they were grouped together, resulting in a
lower estimate of potential income and savings.

 

It is usual practice for the council to make modifications to its budget
proposals throughout the period of drafting and consultation.  In 2010/11
the draft budget was presented to Cabinet on 22nd December and also
examined in detail by our scrutiny panels in January.  This process
ensures that  the final budget presented to Cabinet for decision in
February each year is realistic and achievable.

 

I trust that this clarification resolves your query.

 

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 on behalf of North East Lincolnshire Council

 

Feedback Officer

Resources Directorate

 

show quoted sections

Stan Higgleston (Account suspended)

Dear PPD - FOI,

In reference to the following:

"No information was given to respondents regarding the potential for someone legally challenging the changes. For example the obvious front loading of the liability order costs which appeared justified because other authorities do similar should have been detailed as a 'Consequence'."

Can you clarify my assertion (above) was correct?

Can it also be clarified where monies are allocated relating to the under estimated budget savings?

Yours sincerely,

Stan Higgleston

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Higgleston

                  

Thank you for your further correspondence re the response to request
number 8779_1415.

 

Element 1:

 

The first element of your correspondence asked ‘"No information was given
to respondents regarding the potential for someone legally challenging the
changes. For example the obvious front loading of the liability order
costs which appeared justified because other authorities do similar should
have been detailed as a 'Consequence'." Can you clarify my assertion
(above) was correct?’

 

The Freedom of Information Act 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. Section 84 of the Act states that in order for a request for
information to be handled as a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, it
must be for recorded information. 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. The first element of your correspondence
is asking the Council to consider and comment on your ‘assertion’, which
falls outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. We will
therefore not be responding to this element of your request.

 

Element 2:

 

The second element of your correspondence asked ‘Can it also be clarified
where monies are allocated relating to the under estimated budget
savings?’

 

It is not clear from the wording of your question what precise information
you are asking for.

 

The Statement of Accounts which is available on our website, sets out the
financial position of the Council and includes a comprehensive income and
expenditure statement.

 

The link to the Statement of Accounts is
[1]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council/counci...

 

The 2010/11 Budget Summary also available on the website has lower level
budget information than the Statement of Accounts and a summary of the
final savings/income proposals.

 

The link to the Budget Summary is
[2]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council/counci...

 

I trust this will answer your query in relation to the allocation of
monies.

 

You may also wish to refer to the Annual Governance Reports, which
summarises the findings of the annual audit of the Council’s finances
which are available on our website at
[3]http://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council/counci...

 

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 on behalf of North East Lincolnshire Council

 

Feedback Officer

Resources Directorate

 

show quoted sections

Stan Higgleston (Account suspended)

Dear PPD - FOI,

6 Jan 2015 response doesn't make much sense:–

"In the case of proposal BS10 the figure of £247k was reduced to reflect a likely recovery rate on invoices raised for the recovery of costs."

If the figure presented to the public made allowances for bad debt then why would those same allowances not be presented to cabinet members?

Yours sincerely,

Stan Higgleston

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Higgleston

Thank you for your further enquiry in relation to information request reference 8779_1415. We are able to provide the following clarification which may assist further in your understanding the information previously sent.

Whilst a gross level of savings was included in the Simulator exercise for indicative purposes, this figure was later refined to reflect likely recovery levels by the time the MTFP was presented to Cabinet. Cabinet and Council were therefore able to consider the correct estimation of the savings available before approving the MTFP.

I trust this provides you with a greater understanding of the figures. 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 on behalf of North East Lincolnshire Council

Feedback Officer

Resources Directorate

show quoted sections

Stan Higgleston (Account suspended)

Dear PPD - FOI,

Thank you for your attempt to further assist my understanding of the information previously sent, but it has in fact left me more confused than ever. The response states:

"Whilst a gross level of savings was included in the Simulator exercise for indicative purposes, this figure was later refined to reflect likely recovery levels by the time the MTFP was presented to Cabinet. Cabinet and Council were therefore able to consider the correct estimation of the savings available before approving the MTFP."

The above reference to 'likely recovery levels' and the refinement of them implies that the savings included in the Simulator did not factor in allowances for bad debt, but did when presented to Cabinet. If so, the figures involved completely defy logic.

Please consider the following which explains why I believe this:

The budget Simulator: http://youchoose.esd.org.uk/NorthEastLin...

The introduction text of the Simulator states that 'the council must save £29.7-million over the next four years'. This is the sum after which savings options are selected that reduces by the appropriate amount.

There are proposals in the third category for how the council could bring money in. One of the two items is to ‘Increase court costs...’ and indicates savings of £247,000, but is unclear whether the effects of imposing the measure would be annual or savings made over 4 years. This however is confirmed to be £247k over 4 years by the simulator balance reducing by that amount, i.e., from £29.7-million to £29,453,000 after selecting the option.

The 4 year figure presented to Cabinet was £752,000 (more than half a million pounds more). This logic is completely skewed.

Yours sincerely,

Stan Higgleston

Danny boy left an annotation ()

I was summoned to Corby magistrates and they just asked the council how much they wanna charge me! The thriving thieving courts, wouldn't name themselves, damn cowards!