Increase Council Tax summons Costs

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kasturba Lalbhai

Dear Newcastle upon Tyne City Council,

In reference to paragraph 133 of ANNEX A of the below document:

In line with our tougher approach to dealing with debt recovery we propose revising our court costs for summons and liability orders. As shown in the table below, we propose to front load costs at Summons stage to incentivise debtors to settle their debts at an earlier stage in the recovery process. A combined charge of £100 is inline with Tyne and Wear neighbours.

CHARGE : . . . . . . . : CURRENT : . : PROPOSED
Summons : . . . . . : £42 : . . . . . . . : £60
Liability order : .. : £42 : . . . . . . . : £40

This will need to be agreed by the Magistrates court, and will generate an additional £70k per year (in addition to any increased recovery of debt). ”

The council has proposed front loading and increasing Council Tax summons costs in order to raise a forecasted additional £70,000 each year. This claims to artificially inflate court summons costs as a deterrent/penalty which law does not permit. There is also the implication that the council justifies the costs by comparison with other authorities. The law does not permit this (See paragraph 57 of the High Court judgment in Nicolson v Tottenham Magistrates [2015] .

Please disclose all recorded details held by the Council relating to the relevant legal officer's involvement in overseeing the proposal of front loading and increasing Council Tax summons costs for the above stated purposes.

Yours faithfully,

kasturba Lalbhai

Freedom Of Information Requests Mailbox, Newcastle upon Tyne City Council

Reference: FOI 11732

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kasturba Lalbhai

Dear Freedom Of Information Requests Mailbox,

The reference to ANNEX A of the below document I provided in my request was incorrect. The correct reference is para 132:

Yours sincerely,

kasturba Lalbhai

Blades, Denise, Newcastle upon Tyne City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Kasturba Lalbhai


Thank you for your freedom of information request reference 11732.  Our
response to your request is below.


In your email you refer to the Council’s decision to increase the amount
of costs claimed in Council Tax liability order cases, then infer that the
increase is unlawful and request us to “disclose all recorded details held
by the Council relating to the relevant legal officer’s involvement in
overseeing the proposal of front loading and increasing Council Tax
summons costs for the above stated purposes”. 


First I would wish to clarify the Council’s approach to costs as the
inferences you have drawn from the 2014 report are incorrect.  Contrary to
what you have stated, the summons costs have not been artificially
inflated.  At the present time, the Council typically claims summons costs
of £60 and liability order costs of £40.  If the debt and summons costs
are paid before the court hearing date, the case will be withdrawn. 
Otherwise total costs of £100 (ie. £60+£40) will be claimed at the
liability order hearing.

These figures represent a true and accurate estimate of the Council’s
costs at both stages of the process.  A breakdown showing how the costs
have been calculated is attached.  As can be seen, a greater amount of
work is carried out at the front end of cases in connection with the
preparation, issue and service of the summons and handling contact
received from the debtor as a result of receiving the summons.  This is
the reason why the Council’s costs are said to be ‘front loaded’ at the
summons stage. 


Prior to 2015, the Council’s approach to costs was different. Rather than
calculate the costs attributable to each stage, the Council estimated the
total costs associated with obtaining a liability order and merely split
the figure down the middle in an arbitrary fashion when deciding how much
it would charge for costs if the debt was paid before the hearing. 
However, upon undertaking a review of its costs in 2014/15, the Council
realised that it was under-recovering because i) overall costs had
increased, and ii) significantly more costs were attributable to the
summons stage than had been changed for.  With a view to maximising cost
recovery, a decision was taken to increase the summon costs to £60 (from
£42) and slightly reduce the liability order costs to £40 (from £42),
which more accurately reflects the work done at each stage.  This meant
that the total amount of costs claimed at each hearing increased to £100
(from £84) and costs became ‘front loaded’ (£60/£40).  This is perfectly
legitimate. The fact that the front-loading of costs was also seen to have
the added advantage of acting as an incentive for debtors to settle their
debts at an earlier stage does not undermine the validity of the Council’s
approach to costs. 


Moving on to your specific request for records relating to the relevant
legal officer’s involvement in overseeing the proposal.   I am unclear as
to what exactly you are asking for here as liability order cases are
managed by local taxation officers (who are non-lawyers), and the
Council’s legal department were not involved in the proposal to increase
summons costs.  However, I can confirm that the increased costs were
approved in principle by Magistrates’ Court Clerk prior to implementation
and a break-down of the Council’s costs is made available to the court at
each hearing. 


I trust this clarifies matters.


If you are unhappy with our response to your request you can ask for an
internal review of our decision.  Please send details of your request for
review to the following address:


Information Governance Adviser
Corporate Services
Civic Centre
Newcastle upon Tyne

Telephone: 0191 277 7666
E-mail: [1][Newcastle upon Tyne City Council request email]


If you are still unhappy with how we have handled your request following
our internal review you can complain to the Information Commissioner. 
Contact details are as follows:

Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

Telephone: 0303 123 1113
E-mail: [2][email address]



Kind regards,

Denise Blades IRRV (Tech)
Service Support Officer (Income & Recovery)

Revenues & Benefits
Newcastle City Council
Civic Centre
Barrass Bridge
Newcastle upon Tyne

Phone (External)       +44 (0)191 278 7878
Phone (Internal)         28896
Email                          [3][email address]
Website address      [4]www.newcastle,

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kasturba Lalbhai

Dear Ms Blades,

Thank you. That has given me something to mull over.

Yours sincerely,

kasturba Lalbhai

kasturba Lalbhai

Dear Ms Blades,

I would like an item or two clarifying please.

I can't think what circumstances changed from before the review up until the review in 2014/15 which would have led to the overall costs increasing by 19% (almost a fifth). The court fee paid to HMCTS remains as far as I know at the same level and the increase in postage would not add £16 to the cost.

I also note from the breakdown that there is nothing whatsoever to support the figures and certainly not sufficient information for Magistrates to reach a proper judicial determination of whether the costs claimed represented costs reasonably incurred by the Council.

Can the council please state what costs had increased to support the overall increase of costs by 19%. Also I would appreciate it if the council could disclose the same breakdown which it is obliged to provide to the Magistrates' court when applying for the liability orders.

Yours sincerely,

kasturba Lalbhai

Blades, Denise, Newcastle upon Tyne City Council

I am currently out of the office and will return on Monday 22nd May 2017. 
If your query is urgent, for Income and Recovery please contact Dianne
Jackson on 0191 2776531 and for Council Tax please contact Angela Crook on
0191 2777637.


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