No checks made before issuing court summons

Enid Brighton (Account suspended) made this Freedom of Information request to Haringey Borough Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was successful.

Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear Haringey Borough Council,

I have it on good authority that Council Tax summonses are not checked individually before they are issued.

Parameters are agreed in advance by the relevant manager and set in its Council Tax processing system relating to the number of days behind and the monetary value etc., and summonses are issued on this basis.

The process is therefore completely automated yet a cost of £125 is recharged to the defendant. I'm aware it is unlawful to recharge an amount to the defendant which exceeds the council's incurred expenditure.

I would therefore like disclosing exactly what expenditure is incurred in addition to the obvious costs of stationary and postage for the authority to arrive at a £125 sum.

Yours faithfully,

Enid Brighton

FOI, Haringey Borough Council

Dear Ms Brighton,

 

Thank you for your email however we will not be processing this as a
formal FOI request as I believe you may not be using your real name, but a
pseudonym. Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act states that a
request for information should state the name of the applicant.  This
means the applicant’s real name.  Therefore a request made by an applicant
using a pseudonym is not valid and the public authority would not be
obliged to deal with the request. 

 

I can however advise that we have responded to very similar requests, also
via the WDTK website. One recent example can be found on
'[email address]', under our reference number
LBH/3267814.  

 

Regards,

 

Sue Dyos

Feedback Team Leader

 

Haringey Council

River Park House, 225 High Road, London N22 8HQ

 

T. 020 8489 2556

[email address]

 

www.haringey.gov.uk

twitter@haringeycouncil

facebook.com/haringeycouncil

 

 

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

 

 

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Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear FOI,

Regarding your concerns that the Enid Brighton is a pseudonym you are wrong, but even if it was there would be no need for Haringey Borough council to worry. Please see link:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/priv...

I have looked at the freedom of information you referred to and can not access the spread sheet. I do notice however, that the costs seems to be attributed mainly to IT and staff expenditure.

As I stated in my request, the process of issuing a summons is entirely automated and for the council to claim £125 appears to unlawful.

Yours sincerely,

Enid Brighton

Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear FOI,

You have not responded to my email (14 November 2014).

Please let me know if you intend to continue playing the "pseudonym" card to avoid disclosing the requested information.

If so I will assume, as would anyone, that Haringey Borough Council has something it would not like the public to know about which more than likely involves breaking the law.

Yours sincerely,

Enid Brighton

Alan Stanton left an annotation ()

Dear Enid Brighton,
Apologies if you already know about this, but the Rev Paul Nicolson and Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP) have made a legal challenge to Haringey Council's charging practice. You can find information on their website here.
http://www.taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk/
He and others have also raised concerns about both the costs charged by firms of bailiffs and the means they use in enforcing these charges and recovering Court costs and Council Tax arrears.

Reverend Nicolson led a deputation to Haringey Council meeting on 24 November 2014 when he mainly spoke about the Council's failure to consult properly when setting the Council Tax. (That's not my opinion; it's the ruling of the Supreme Court.)

Enid Brighton (Account suspended) left an annotation ()

Dear Alan Stanton

Thank you for posting your message. I have been following Reverend Nicolson's case very closely and visit his website regularly for updates on other good work he's involved in (the Supreme Court ruling noted of course).

Regarding the conveyor belt style procedure of council tax court applications, it is without doubt that parameters are set in the council's software which are relied on to trigger the issue of a summons without any involvement from paid staff. For them to intervene would be admitting that the money spent on their systems and IT contractors has been wasted.

What really confirms this is an account of someone's experience with North East Lincolnshire Council. The link (below) describes a system where it is inconceivable that any checks are made before the authority embarks on court action and even ignores concerns raised until the incident is reported to the police.

http://www.legalbeagles.info/forums/show...

FOI, Haringey Borough Council

Dear Ms Brighton

 

Freedom of Information / Environmental Information Regulations Request:
Reference LBH/3776914

 

I acknowledge your request for information received on 14 November 2014.

This information request will be dealt with in accordance with the Freedom
of Information Act 2000 / Environmental Information Regulations and we
will send the response by 12 December 2014.

 

If you have any questions, please contact us on 020 8489 1988 or
[email address].

Yours sincerely

 

 

Sue Dyos

Feedback Team Leader

Feedback & Information Governance | 020 8489 1988

 

 

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Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear FOI,

Thank you, I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Enid Brighton

CS Development Inbox, Haringey Borough Council

1 Attachment

Good afternoon Ms Brighton,

 

Please find below our response to your Freedom of Information Act request.

 

Kind regards,

 

Claire Gunn

Service Officer

 

Revenues, Benefits and Customer Services

Haringey Council

River Park House, 225 High Road, London N22 8HQ

 

Tel: 020 8489 3943

 

[1]www.haringey.gov.uk

twitter @haringeycouncil

facebook.com/haringeycouncil

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Ms Brighton,

Re: Freedom of Information Act Request ref: LBH/3776914

 

Thank you for your request for information received on 27 November 2014,
in which you asked for the following information:

 

I have it on good authority that Council Tax summonses are not checked
individually before they are issued.

 

Parameters are agreed in advance by the relevant manager and set in its
Council Tax processing system relating to the number of days behind and
the monetary value etc., and summonses are issued on this basis.

 

The process is therefore completely automated yet a cost of £125 is
recharged to the defendant. I'm aware it is unlawful to recharge an amount
to the defendant which exceeds the council's incurred expenditure.

 

I would therefore like disclosing exactly what expenditure is incurred in
addition to the obvious costs of stationary and postage for the authority
to arrive at a £125 sum.

 

My response is as follows:

 

Attached are our court costs as agreed with the Local Magistrates Court.

 

You are incorrect in stating that the summons process is completely
automated. That may, or may not, be the case in other Local Authorities
but it is not the case in Haringey.  

 

If you have any further queries, or are unhappy with how we have dealt
with your request and wish to make a complaint, please contact the
Feedback and Information Team as below. (Please note you should do this
within two months of receiving this response.)   

 

Feedback and Information Team

River Park House

225 High Road

N22 8HQ

Telephone: 020 8489 1988

Email: [2][email address]

 

 

 

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Mick Bradburn

Council Tax Reduction Manager

 

Haringey Council

P.O Box 10505, Wood Green, London N22 7WJ

 

 

T:020 8489 2853

[3][email address]

 

[4]www.haringey.gov.uk

twitter@haringeycouncil

facebook.com/haringeycouncil

 

 

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

 

 

 

This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential, may be
subject to legal privilege and are intended only for the person(s) or
organisation(s) to whom this email is addressed. Any unauthorised use,
retention, distribution, copying or disclosure is strictly prohibited. If
you have received this email in error, please notify the system
administrator at Haringey Council immediately and delete this e-mail from
your system. Although this e-mail and any attachments are believed to be
free of any virus or other defect which might affect any computer or
system into which they are received and opened, it is the responsibility
of the recipient to ensure they are virus free and no responsibility is
accepted for any loss or damage from receipt or use thereof. All
communications sent to or from external third party organisations may be
subject to recording and/or monitoring in accordance with relevant
legislation.
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References

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Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear CS Development Inbox,

The breakdown of expenditure which makes up the £125 costs does not give sufficient information for the Magistrates' court to determine whether the regulations are being complied with.

It is unclear at what stage of recovery the costs in the itemised list relate in terms of the defining boundaries for which the regulations clearly confine costs to the summons, for example, and if necessary the additional costs for obtaining the Liability Order.

I believe Haringey Borough Council charges its full £125 costs in respect of the summons, which is the same sum it imposes on debtors where their cases proceed to application for a liability order. However, the summons costs should be a lesser sum than the total in respect of being granted the liability order. There is no such distinction in the way Haringey Borough Council applies costs which suggests the costs are unlawfully front loaded to the summons.

According to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), in 2013/14, Haringey issued 32,237 summonses, raising over £4 million in costs. The attached calculation uses a figure of 23,000 summonses to arrive at the individual summons cost of £125. This is a figure nearly 30% less than the actual number which artificially inflates the average costs.

The calculation therefore seems to make allowances for costs which are uncollected by using a sum nearly 30% lower than the actual summonses to determine the individual costs. In doing this, it is obvious that the defendants left actually paying the costs are paying an inflated sum to either compensate for the council's error of judgement or subsidise the costs of those others having them waived for reasons likely that they agree to the council's favourable terms, for example, switching their method of payment to Direct Debit.

The certainty is, that by loading extra costs on to the debtor for expenditure otherwise unrecoverable, the council would not be justified in stating to the Magistrates' court that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority.

The law does not provide that the billing authority may increase the costs in respect of one debtor from whom collection is easy in order to pay another's costs whose payment is not so easily obtained.

Yours sincerely,

Enid Brighton

FOI, Haringey Borough Council

Dear Ms Brighton

Thank you for your email below.  Your comments have been noted.

 

Regards

Lesley Clay

Feedback Review Officer

Tel 020 8489 1988

 

Haringey Council

River Park House, 225 High Road, London N22 8HQ

 

 

[1]www.haringey.gov.uk

twitter.com/haringeycouncil

[2]www.facebook.com/haringeycouncil

 

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Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear FOI,

Re; "Your comments have been noted."

Does that mean that Haringey will review the way it applies costs so they are in accordance with the law?

Yours sincerely,

Enid Brighton

FOI, Haringey Borough Council

Dear Ms Brighton,

We have addressed your Freedom of Information Request but we will not be engaging in ongoing correspondence with you about this. If you wish to do so you should contact the Council Tax team directly.

Regards

Sue Dyos
Feedback Team Leader

Haringey Council
River Park House, 225 High Road, London N22 8HQ

T. 020 8489 1988
[email address]

www.haringey.gov.uk
twitter@haringeycouncil
facebook.com/haringeycouncil

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Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear FOI,

I would like the cost of the summons issue which relates to (and is described at) regulation 34(5) of SI 1992/613, i.e. in respect of a customer who simply receives a summons and settles outstanding liability before the date of the hearing without need to make contact with the local authority to query the demand.

Yours sincerely,

Enid Brighton

FOI, Haringey Borough Council

Dear Ms Brighton,

 

Thank you for your email.

 

We have already provided information about the cost of the summons. The
cost is the same whether a customer settles on receipt of a summons or
does not.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

S Dingomal 

Feedback Review Officer

 

Haringey Council 

River Park House, 225 High Road, London, N22 8HQ

 

020 8489 1988

[email address]

 

www.haringey.gov.uk

twitter@haringeycouncil

facebook.com/haringeycouncil

 

 

 

 

show quoted sections

Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear FOI,

Re; "We have already provided information about the cost of the summons. The cost is the same whether a customer settles on receipt of a summons or does not."

I know the cost to the defendant is the same, but I'm asking for the costs incurred by the council.

Yours sincerely,

Enid Brighton

FOI, Haringey Borough Council

Dear Ms Brighton,

 

We do not quantify the costs to the council on a case by case basis.

 

We have given you the information about how the £125 figure is arrived at
in our previous response to your FOI request, our reference LBH/3776914.

 

Regards,

 

Sue Dyos

Feedback Team Leader

 

Haringey Council

River Park House, 225 High Road, London N22 8HQ

 

T. 020 8489 2556

[email address]

 

www.haringey.gov.uk

twitter@haringeycouncil

facebook.com/haringeycouncil

 

 

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

 

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Enid Brighton (Account suspended)

Dear FOI,

Re; "We do not quantify the costs to the council on a case by case basis."

The task need not be so onerous that it would be necessary to calculate the level of costs incurred in each individual case. However, in seeking to standardise costs, the very least requirement would be to have a standard sum for the summons and another for the liability order; then only where costs are challenged or an amount tendered (as per the regulations) would they need individually assessing.

What is of relevance here is Haringey council used to apply costs in accordance with the regulations; initially at a lesser sum than the total in respect of the summons and a further sum on being granted the liability order.

For example in 2006/07 the summons only made up 67% of the overall costs with the liability order cost representing 33% of the total with the split being £60 and £30.

Apparently, the council decided it would no longer carry out the procedure in accordance with law a couple of years later where it replaced the two stage system with a single charge of £95 applied at the summons stage, presumably with the intention to raise additional income.

Yours sincerely,

Enid Brighton

Tom Bola left an annotation ()

Haringey Borough Council discovered other councils obtaining agreement to raise Court Costs significantly to act as a deterrent and fund improved recovery measures. On what appears to have been based on these criteria, Haringey’s Review Panel recommended that it ensured seeking the highest possible level of Court Costs were charged.

Page 36 of Haringey Council's 2004 Audit and Finance Scrutiny Panel Review of Income Collection details at paragraph 6.11 , the relevant matter, as follows:

http://www.haringey.gov.uk/scrutiny_revi...

"6.11. Court Costs

6.11.1. The Review Panel found that other councils had obtained agreement to raise Court Costs recharged to non-payers by a significant level. This charge is intended to act as a deterrent to both late and non-payers and enables councils to fund improved recovery measures. The Review Panel concluded that the Benefits and Local Taxation Service could improve performance by ensuring that it agrees the highest possible level of Court Costs to be charged to non-payers

Recommendation B2. “Court Costs”

That the Benefits and Local Taxation Service ensure the maximum amount possible is charged for Court Costs and to review the charge at regular intervals subject to any guidance/legislation governing Court Costs."

Tom Bola left an annotation ()

Haringey Borough Council recharges £125 in costs to issue a summons. These are not the true costs that the council incur and are set this high purely to act as a penalty / deterrent.

Over 32,000 summonses were issued in 2013/14, and for an automated process the council raised over £4 million. That's an average of a third of a million pounds for each of its 12 bulk applications it makes to the Magistrates' court annually.

The council fundamentally misunderstands why it is permitted to obtain liability orders and more importantly what purpose the provision for costs serves.

The fact that Haringey Borough Council sets the court costs artificially high to in fact really function as a 'fine', seems to suggest that it views summons costs, and their manipulation, as a mechanism for maximising income (as opposed to a means for recharging relevant incurred expenditure to the defendant). It appears misconceived in its view as to why powers are conferred on billing authorities to enable them to make complaint in the Magistrates’ court.

A liability order is simply the vehicle empowering a billing authority to make use of a range of enforcement measures to pursue monies owed. Costs therefore arise out of the authority’s legal obligation to obtain authorisation to engage in further recovery. The court grants permission by way of the order, for which a prescribed fee is charged in respect of each account listed on the council’s bulk complaint. This forms an element of the costs which are recharged to the debtor.

It would be exploiting the legal power if proceedings were turned into an opportunity to coerce payment. For example, it would be an abuse if the costs were set at a level considered sufficiently punitive that the threat of a summons acted as an incentive for people to meet their liability, rather than set to reflect the expenditure incurred.

In other words, the court should not be seen as a vehicle to perversely raise costs (for example to penalise the debtor). It is vitally important to remember that the court is engaged because the billing authority is statutorily obliged. To that end, costs are incurred as a consequence, rather than the purpose of the application.

Court proceedings should not, but appear to be entered into with the intention of exploiting the costs element for the purposes of both penalising the defendant and to act as a threat to encourage prompt payment.