Stealth tax – exploiting Magistrates' court fees in Council Tax applications

The request was partially successful.

Dear Ministry of Justice,

Since benefit reforms were introduced in April 2013 the public has had to bear the cost of £millions in respect of unrecoverable Magistrates' court fee applications in Council Tax cases.

Through the process of introducing the benefit reforms, it would have been obvious to the government that because of the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cuts, the number of people falling in arrears and then being summonsed to court by local authorities would sky rocket.

For all those cases the council is invoiced by the Ministry of Justice a sum of £3 in respect of the court fee for making complaint to the court. The council will be liable to pay this irrespective of the case proceeding to a hearing or whether the council's costs are recoverable.

Government must also have been mindful that in hundreds and thousands of cases, councils would be unable to recover monies from individuals incurring the costs and would have no practical alternative but to waive them. In all these cases however, the Ministry of Justice will still have gained £3 per complaint for which the local authority (council taxpayer) is unable to recover and bare the cost.

This manoeuvre is stealthily taxing the public as in these cases it is not the individual defaulting on payment who pays this but the taxpayer in general and must have been considered a master stroke by the government in using local authorities, the Department of Work and Pensions and the Court Service to bring in an extra 'x' amount of £millions each year.

Q1. Please disclose whatever information the Ministry of Justice holds relating to any estimates or forecasts it made regarding additional revenue it would secure (because of the benefit reforms) through the Magistrates' court fee in liability order applications.

Q2. Since the introduction of benefit reforms, how much in respect of each relevant year does the additional revenue through court fees amount to.

Q3. What purpose has the additional revenue generated (Q.2) been used.

Yours faithfully,

Baz Frodham

Cherie Jerez left an annotation ()

It makes you wonder if the justice system would exist if it were unable to make a profit.

Dear Ministry of Justice,

Response to this request is delayed. By law, Ministry of Justice should have responded by 15 December 2014.

Yours faithfully,

Baz Frodham

Dear Ministry of Justice,

Is the Ministry of Justice ignoring this request for information because it considers some exemption applies, or does it just think ignoring it will make the fact that the department has been exposed for screwing the public go away?

Yours faithfully,

Baz Frodham

Dear Ministry of Justice,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Ministry of Justice's handling of my FOI request 'Stealth tax – exploiting Magistrates' court fees in Council Tax applications'.

Response to this request is delayed. By law, Ministry of Justice should have responded by 15 December 2014.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/s...

Yours faithfully,

Baz Frodham

Lee Johnson left an annotation ()

This staggering yearly scam of more than £500,000,000 that are being awarded against people who are in financial difficulties, and which results in yet further costs, attachment of earnings orders, bailiffs, bankruptcies, repossessions, and all in the name of the councils exploiting a revenue avenue by smacking up to £126 for a "COSTS" order against tardy Council Tax payers; IS A SCAM! It is a Fraud.
Legal proceedings costs should only be based on the fee's for the claim/application (£3), and the cost of a solicitor preparing the claim/application (£0), plus the cost of a solicitor at the hearing (£0), Not £126.
In civil proceedings the party claiming costs has to state; "I confirm that the costs claimed do not exceed my actual costs incurred". Council Tax hearings at magistrates court are not criminal proceedings, and the same civil costs rules apply.
The "Costs" are not a fine, they are not a penalty, and they are not based on the actual costs. It is theft by all councils to charge costs of more than £3 for a Council Tax summons.

NW Regional Support Correspondence,

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Frodham,
 
Please find attached a response to your Internal Review request.
 
Kind regards
 

Christopher J M Cox
Knowledge Information Liaison Officer

Assurance Team

 

North West Regional Support Unit
HM Courts & Tribunals Service

Manchester Civil Justice Centre

PO Box 4237
1 Bridge Street West
Manchester
M60 1TE

DX 724780 Manchester 44

T  0161 240 5082

F  0161 240 5915
E  christopher.cox[1]@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk

 

 

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Dear NW Regional Support Correspondence,

The introduction to my request makes a case for the government using several departments to ensure a significant increase in people are taken to court for being unable to pay their council tax.

To clarify how this would be achieved. It would be because of the removal of council tax benefit and introduction of bedroom tax that would take the amount of income – which had already been means tested and decided to be the minimum to live on frugally – to be reduced further.

Please see below that introduction for your reference:

"Since benefit reforms were introduced in April 2013 the public has had to bear the cost of £millions in respect of unrecoverable Magistrates' court fee applications in Council Tax cases.

Through the process of introducing the benefit reforms, it would have been obvious to the government that because of the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cuts, the number of people falling in arrears and then being summonsed to court by local authorities would sky rocket.

For all those cases the council is invoiced by the Ministry of Justice a sum of £3 in respect of the court fee for making complaint to the court. The council will be liable to pay this irrespective of the case proceeding to a hearing or whether the council's costs are recoverable.

Government must also have been mindful that in hundreds and thousands of cases, councils would be unable to recover monies from individuals incurring the costs and would have no practical alternative but to waive them. In all these cases however, the Ministry of Justice will still have gained £3 per complaint for which the local authority (council taxpayer) is unable to recover and bare the cost.

This manoeuvre is stealthily taxing the public as in these cases it is not the individual defaulting on payment who pays this but the taxpayer in general and must have been considered a master stroke by the government in using local authorities, the Department of Work and Pensions and the Court Service to bring in an extra 'x' amount of £millions each year."

Yours sincerely,

Baz Frodham

NW Regional Support Correspondence,

Thank you for your email, we will respond as soon as possible.

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Lee Johnson left an annotation ()

The MOJ stated; "The purpose of an Internal Review is to assess how your Freedom of Information request was handled in the first instance and to determine whether the original decision given to you was correct. I have reassessed your case and after careful consideration I have concluded that due to a procedural oversight no initial response was sent to you following your original request dated the 16 November 2014 and therefore the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was non compliant with the requirements of the FOIA and for that I apologies on behalf of the MoJ. "

If you request the ICO to assess this MOJ response, and request a decision by the ICO, the ICO will confirm that the MOJ breached 10(1) by failing to respond, and this ICO decision will be published on the ICO and MOJ web sites.

The publication of these ICO decisions regarding the continuing failure of the MOJ to respond to FOIA & DPA requests will result in the MOJ taking steps to comply with the requirements of the FOIA and DPA.

NW Regional Support Correspondence,

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Frodham,
 
Please find attached a response to your email of 9 January 2015.
 
Kind regards
 

Christopher J M Cox
Knowledge Information Liaison Officer

Assurance Team

 

North West Regional Support Unit
HM Courts & Tribunals Service

Manchester Civil Justice Centre

PO Box 4237
1 Bridge Street West
Manchester
M60 1TE

DX 724780 Manchester 44

T  0161 240 5082

F  0161 240 5915
E  christopher.cox[1]@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk

 

 

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Dear NW Regional Support Correspondence,

Sorry!

I forgot to include the questions in my 9 January 2015 email after I had tried to put my FOI in perspective.

The additional revenue refers to that from the Magistrates' court fee paid on making complaint for a council tax laibility order.

Again:

Q1. Please disclose whatever information the Ministry of Justice holds relating to any estimates or forecasts it made regarding additional revenue it would secure (because of the benefit reforms) through the Magistrates' court fee in liability order applications.

Q2. Since the introduction of benefit reforms, how much in respect of each relevant year does the additional revenue through court fees amount to.

Q3. What purpose has the additional revenue generated (Q.2) been used.

Yours sincerely,

Baz Frodham

NW Regional Support Correspondence,

Thank you for your email, we will respond as soon as possible.

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F&G KILO Management,

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Dear Mr Frodham,

 

Thank you for your freedom of Information request.

 

Please find attached an acknowledgement letter for your information.

 

Kind regards

 

Knowledge Information Liaison Officer

HMCTS Governance and Assurance

 

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Dear Mr Frodham,

 

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request, reference FOI/97029/HG.

 

Please find attached the response to your request.

 

Kind regards

 

Knowledge Information Liaison Officer

HMCTS Governance and Assurance

 

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Dear F&G KILO Management,

The legislation would appear to be the 'Welfare Reform Act 2012' which came into force on 1 April 2013.

One relevant provisions of the Act is the change to housing benefit (more commonly known as 'the bedroom tax'). This would affect (by increasing) the amount of income generated for the MoJ in respect of Magistrates' Court fees because of a surge in the number of these people who would be summonsed for non-payment because the changes include an "under-occupancy penalty" which reduces the amount of benefit paid to claimants if they are deemed to have too much living space in the property they are renting.

Another relevant provision of the Act is the change to Council Tax Benefit for which the responsibility for assessment of claims and payments is shifted to local authorities, who are empowered to set their own local criteria and benefit amounts but with the budget available from central government being reduced by 10%. This would similarly increase the amount of income generated for the MoJ in respect of Magistrates' Court fees because of a surge in the number being summonsed for non-payment.

For similar reasons the 'Benefit Cap' which the Act now limits the total amount of money available to social security claimants would generate more income for the MoJ in respect of Magistrates' Court fees.

For further clarification the specific dates required would be by year since the introduction of the Welfare Reform (1 April 2013) to date.

Yours sincerely,

Baz Frodham

F&G KILO Management,

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Frodham,

 

Thank you for clarifying your Freedom of Information request.

 

I have attached an Acknowledgement letter for your information.

 

Kind regards

 

Knowledge Information Liaison Officer

HMCTS Governance and Assurance

 

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F&G KILO Management,

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Dear Sir,

 

Please find attached a response to your Freedom of Information request,
this was initially sent on Friday, but I’m not sure you received it,
therefore I’m sending again.

 

Kind regards

 

Knowledge and Information Liaison Officer

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Dear F&G KILO Management,

Regarding your attachment (letter dated 19 June 2015) to your email of 23 June 2015 you appear to have misread the questions relating to the required information. See your response below:

"I am sorry to inform you that the MoJ does not hold the information that you have requested. MoJ does not presently hold any breakdown of additional revenue from the introduction of the Welfare Reform Act 2012."

The first question asks for estimates or forecasts of additional revenue (council tax liability order court fees) that would result in creating the extra financial burden on claimants due to the introduction of the Welfare Reform.

The second question should simply be a case of taking away the total court cost income (presumed higher) since the reforms were introduced, from the total income pre-reforms.

The third question can not really be further clarified.

Please see the request again:

Q1. Please disclose whatever information the Ministry of Justice holds relating to any estimates or forecasts it made regarding additional revenue it would secure (because of the benefit reforms) through the Magistrates' court fee in liability order applications.

Q2. Since the introduction of benefit reforms, how much in respect of each relevant year does the additional revenue through court fees amount to?

Q3. What purpose has the additional revenue generated (Q.2) been used.

Yours sincerely,

Baz Frodham

Cunningham, Jessica,

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Frodham,

Please see attached our acknowledgment of your request.

Kind Regards

Jess Cunningham
KILO & Business Support
HMCTS, SW Region

T 01392 331730
E [email address]
SW Regional Office, Lynx House, Pynes Hill Campus, Rydon Lane, Exeter, EX2 5JL


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SW Region Support,

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Please find attached response.

Kind regards

Kate

Kate Brooks (Mrs)

Knowledge and Information Liaison Officer & Business Support

HMCTS, SW Region Support Unit

Working Pattern: Monday 9:30-5:00, Tuesday 9:30-5:00 and Wednesday
9:00-12:30

T 01392 331751 (internal 1751) |  Gold Fax 0870 739 4378 |  E
[1][email address]

SW Regional Office | Lynx House | Pynes Hill Campus | Rydon Lane | Exeter
| EX2 5JL

I am not authorised to bind the Ministry of Justice contractually, nor to
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Justice in any way via electronic means.

 

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Dear SW Region Support,

"No analysis has taken place of the use of revenue as a result of benefit reform. Please note, however, that it is the Government’s aim that fee income covers 100% of the cost of providing court services, minus the cost of the remissions system (fee waivers)."

I don't believe the above resembles anything like the truth with regards to Council Tax liability order applications. The situation appears to be that the Government’s aim is to vastly exceed the cost of providing court services with fee income.

For example it is believed that in the 2012/13 tax year, £148,668 was generated from 49,556 Magistrates' Court fees for the issue of Council Tax and NNDR summonses in respect of Enfield and Haringey Magistrate's court.

This is evidence of HMCTS being run as a 'for-profit' organisation.

Yours sincerely,

Baz Frodham

SW Region Support,

Dear Mr Frodham,

Thank you for your email. Your comments have been noted and placed on file.

If you are not satisfied with our response to your request for Internal Review, please note the guidance provided at the end of the letter, with information on how to appeal.

Kind Regards

Jess Cunningham
KILO & Business Support
HMCTS, SW Region

T 01392 331730
E [email address]
SW Regional Office, Lynx House, Pynes Hill Campus, Rydon Lane, Exeter, EX2 5JL


"I am not authorised to bind the Ministry of Justice contractually, nor to make representations or other statements which may bind the Ministry of Justice in any way via electronic means".

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ivanataylor left an annotation ()

Council Tax ex councillor questions Town and District Council

I would like to know if a complaint is actually laid before the Magistrates prior to a summons being issued by the Magistrates for non payment of Council tax?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw4I2gEt...

Lee Johnson left an annotation ()

Based on my own observations;
No, the "summons" is not presented to the magistrates court before the hearing. The magistrates court is taken over for the day by the council after a list of people being summoned is submitted to the court with the £3 per summons fee. There are no checks or evidence at that stage. The hearing is a joke, with aggressive council staff interviewing all the people who have been summonsed before the hearing, to get them to agree a payment. No mention is made of the excessive costs that are being applied to each person summonsed. Protests and representations to the judge are discouraged, to the point were the council staff will state anything to prevent this. I recall telling one person that he had a right to speak to the judge, and the council staff said no he did not. I started quoting the HRA and a right to a fair trial, and they permitted the guy to speak to the judge. High handed profit making process for the council with tens of thousands of costs for the £3 a time summons being awarded en-mass by the judge at every hearing.
In the case of Redbridge the £1.9 million costs awarded to the council in 2014 are not itemized in the Redbridge annual accounts, and it appears that most of this money is wasted on Redbridge legal services follies such as £344,000 expenditure on a single Employment Tribunal claim.
The council tax hearings are a joke from start to finish, and have nothing to do with recovery of council taxes, they are just a profit center for the councils legal department.

fFaudwAtch UK (Account suspended) left an annotation ()

A complaint submitted to HMCTS Complaints, Correspondence and Litigation Team surrounds a disputed liability order (excessive summons costs) made by Justices at Grimsby Magistrate’s court which led to an application to the court to state a case for an appeal to the high court.

It has been unable to obtain the 'case stated', despite making numerous attempts. It is this failure that has prevented the appeal that was instituted on 22 November 2012 from proceeding to the High Court to this day.

The issues, as far as those directly relating to HMCTS are evident from the correspondence compiled chronologically appended to the complaint letter (see below link), which is referable to the draft chronology (link also below) prepared for, and intended to be part of the High Court papers for the case stated appeal.

It will be evident on reading the account that the cause of the gross injustice which has protracted so far over roughly three and a half years has been the unwillingness and refusal of the court to cooperate, which in some cases has involved more seriously lying.

CHRONOLOGICALLY COMPILED CORRESPONDENCE
https://www.scribd.com/doc/316778791/Com...

CHRONOLOGY
https://www.scribd.com/doc/296281170/Chr...

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