The Council's auditor contrator KPMG's response time

The request was partially successful.

Neil Gilliatt (Account suspended)

Dear North East Lincolnshire Council,

The following correspondence was sent to the council's auditor contractor KPMG with the Director of Finance Sharon Wroot (Section 151 Officer) copied in on 13 June 2016.

There has been no response from KPMG despite a reminder sent on 15 September.

Are there any time constraints placed on private companies contracted to the council for responding to customer correspondence and if so what details are held?

From: Neil
To: Prentice, John
Cc: Wroot, Sharon
Sent: Monday, June 13, 2016 8:57 PM
Subject: Re: North East Lincolnshire Council - council tax summons costs

Dear Mr Prentice,

Declaration of unlawful account and report in the public interest

Thank you for your response to my correspondence requesting that KPMG apply to the court for a declaration that an item of account is contrary to law. I do however consider that the wishes of Parliament conferring power to the courts etc., is not an appropriate 'get out' for justifying being let off the hook concerning making the application.

Appropriateness of establishing the legal powers

Sub-paragraph 2(a) of section 28 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 provides for the court to make or refuse to make the declaration asked for and therefore the mere fact that court proceedings in relation to the matter have gone ahead where costs have been awarded does not preclude the auditor making an application. Although you assert that my case has previously been put before the Magistrates' and High Court, It should be pointed out that the High Court has made no ruling because the Magistrates Court has and continues to obstruct the appeal proceeding for reasons I can only assume.

Notwithstanding that the Magistrates' court on two previous occasions has awarded the council these costs, there was no evidence in either case that the representations submitted had been properly considered. However, all of this is largely academic because the application to the court for the relevant declaration concerns the council unlawfully accounting for expenditure associated with Council Tax Enforcement and Recovery (the "cost of the service") and substituting that for its Summons cost calculation. The matter first and foremost concerns the auditor's duty to act on information highlighting accounts which are misrepresented, so it should not be a consideration that if doing so there is identified something which the courts should be aware of. It therefore can not possibly be conceived how the matter can be considered without reference to the relevant laws.

Council's website description

I note your recommendation to the council to amend its website regarding the reference to the costs being determined based on comparisons with the fees charged by neighbouring councils etc. It is also noted that the council has removed the statement giving information that 'a check is made to ensure that the monies raised from applying costs are not greater than the actual cost of the service'. In its place it states that 'the figure is determined by a realistic estimate of the work dedicated to the application of a liability order'. It is one thing to claim administrative error in the matter relating to the recommended change but a gross misrepresentation to alter the description from the 'cost of the service' to the cost 'dedicated to the application of a liability order'.

The cost of the service, from numerous references has been confirmed to relate to ‘the costs reasonably incurred for Council Tax collection and recovery’ which is a much broader budget that encompasses the work dedicated to the application of a liability order. That being the case the new wording on the council's website can only have credibility if there's a corresponding change in the "Summons cost calculation" to reflect it. The cost of the service must include expenditure attributable to instituting the summons but only as a small element of the aggregate amount and so the idea of ensuring income is kept within this budget is misconceived as a measure of what might be lawful to make up its Summons cost calculation.

The Court hasn't the necessary knowledge of the council's accounts

The court has made no proper judgment regarding the costs, and if it had, it would be a neglect of duty for the auditor to be 'silent' whilst advantaged with superior insight into the accounts and benefiting additionally from researched information. The auditor in any event would not be making a judicial decision but be presenting evidence based on his own area of professional expertise which the court would be best advantaged to justify making the declaration asked for. It would have to be questioned why a provision exist in law for an auditor, clearly better equipped than the court to assess the accounts, if not to provide the best opportunity for the court to make a ruling.

Conventionally when determining costs for the successful party, the court broadly need only consider the amount paid for legal representation and therefore an invoice of those expenses forms the basis on which the court is able to decide a sum. The position is not so black and white for Council Tax liability applications where an in-depth knowledge of a billing authority's accounts is required to facilitate a proper determination of the costs and to ensure that they are properly referable to the enabling regulations. To reiterate what I have previously stated, those regulations restrict the amount claimed in respect of the summons to expenditure incurred by the Council for instituting the complaint and must not include any of the additional expenditure attributed to the application/obtaining of a liability order, or other expenditure, like for example enforcing the order after it has been granted by the court. Merely changing the description on it's website without appropriately amending its Summons cost calculation does not legitimise the accounts.

Unlawful account

Having established it inappropriate to consider the matter without reference to the relevant laws, the criteria upon which you have considered the concerns essentially requires amending to include various submissions, for example my 27 December 2015 email, the referred to content in the Grounds of Appeal document and a number of correspondence I sent in 2012 bearing reference NG/CTR/12912.

After doing so, it could no longer simply be claimed to be a policy matter whether or not the Council seeks to recover further costs for instituting an application for a liability order, because asserting that was based on the assumption that additional expenditure attributed to the application/obtaining the order was waived which would in turn have to rely on certain misconceptions, those being that the;

i) gross recoverable expenditure attributable to the costs was permissible

ii) further work attributed to obtaining the liability order was not arbitrarily estimated, merely to justify charging all costs up front

iii) average costs do not include subsidy for bad debt arising from waived or unrecoverable costs

iv) costs do not include subsidy for administration expenditure arising from setting up payment plans, dealing with queries etc.

v) claimed costs do not include any element attributable to the expenditure of enforcing the order after it is obtained

Upon proper consideration it could only logically be concluded that expenditure which is not referable to the regulations is included in the accounts, especially given that the council's aim is to ensure no cost of recovery is borne by the taxpayer. It is clear that the gross recoverable expenditure is on the whole attributed to debtors who take up resources by engaging staff in matters connected with their payment difficulties. Those customers are generally the ones having their costs waived or avoid them due to payment plans being set up, yet the cost of arranging and monitoring of them thereafter is what makes up the costs which are recoverable through the summons. In general terms it is those debtors driving the activity who are not incurring costs, but being paid for by those who don't engage staff and consequently at an inflated amount.

I appreciate it is a difficult position for the auditor having on the one hand a public duty to ensure that the residents of North East Lincolnshire are not caused a detriment financially because of misrepresented accounts and on the other, having to be mindful that the council holds the decision whether or not a contract will be terminated or renewed.

Yours faithfully,

Neil Gilliatt

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Gilliatt

I am pleased to acknowledge your request for information, which has been allocated the reference number NEL/3392/1617.

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:
https://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council-infor... .

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

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PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Gilliatt

 

Thank you for your information request reference 3392_1617. I can confirm
that North East Lincolnshire Council holds the following information.

 

Please note the information requested is not produced or owned by North
East Lincolnshire Council and is freely available on the internet. The
National Audit Office issue a Code of Audit Practice which is available on
their website: [1]https://www.nao.org.uk/code-audit-practi...

 

This document prescribes the way in which local auditors carry out their
functions under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. KPMG are
North East Lincolnshire Council’s independently appointed auditors, being
appointed by Public Sector Audit Appointments. The specific information in
relation to your request can be found in Chapter 5.

 

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

 

 

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Neil Gilliatt (Account suspended)

Dear North East Lincolnshire Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of North East Lincolnshire Council's handling of my FOI request 'The Council's auditor contrator KPMG's response time'.

I have looked at the information in the link (chapter 5) and consider that the information I asked for is not there. If I have missed it then please quote the relevant part. For your reference my request was as follows:

"Are there any time constraints placed on private companies contracted to the council for responding to customer correspondence and if so what details are held?"

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

Yours faithfully,

Neil Gilliatt

PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Gilliatt 

 

I am pleased to acknowledge your correspondence and wish to confirm that
an Internal Review of the handling of your Information Request
NEL/3392/1617 is to take place.

 

The Internal Review 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]https://www.nelincs.gov.uk/council-infor....

 

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

 

 

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PPD - FOI, North East Lincolnshire Council

Dear Mr Gilliatt

Further to your request an Internal Review has taken place into North East
Lincolnshire Council's handling of your information request NEL/3392/1617,
concerning the council’s auditor contractor KPMG’s response time.

I have reviewed the response provided to you and the handling of your
request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and find:

·         That your request was responded to within the statutory time of
20 working days;

·         That you were informed whether or not the information you asked
for was held by North East Lincolnshire Council;

·         That you were provided with the information you asked for
available under the Freedom of Information Act; and

·         That your response provided you with your rights of appeal. 

I am therefore satisfied that the Council has acted in accordance with the
Freedom of Information Act in the handling of your request.

I have reviewed the response originally provided to you and consider that
it is very clear in explaining that the Code of Audit Practice which
governs the way in which KPMG manages contact from members of the public 
is available online and is not owned or published by North East
Lincolnshire Council. For the sake of clarity and to ensure your complete
understanding, I can confirm that North East Lincolnshire Council holds no
recorded information in relation to time constraints placed on KPMG. The
standards we would expect to be followed are those you were referred to in
the original response.

I trust that this Internal Review answers your queries in relation to your
request, and clarifies that your request has been handled in accordance
with the Freedom of Information Act. 

If you remain dissatisfied with the Council’s handling of your request, or
the decision of the internal review you can request an independent review
by contacting the Information Commissioner's Office at Wycliffe House,
Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely on behalf of North East Lincolnshire Council

Ian Hollingsworth

Information Governance and Complaints

 

 

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