This phenomenon is well documented in other local authorities. But there is another more subtle fraud at play that does not fill as many column inches as rogue bailiffs like Rundle & Co. The councils themselves are engaged in a grubby little fraud of their own.
Each time a summons is generated with reference to council tax arrears, councils charge on average £85 for the Liability Order, not least the criminal enterprise known as South Gloucestershire Council. One of my FOI requests is to establish exactly how much that set of crooks are extorting for the last financial year, but helpfully, just to give you an idea of the numbers at play, we have this.
Two hundred people are summoned to court EVERY DAY on average across Manchester for council tax arrears, with with a whopping 50,000 summons being issued last year alone at a sum of £82 a time. That's right folks. Manchester raises £4.1 MILLION a year (and rising) from Liability Orders, which they expect us to believe is a "reasonable cost" of sending a CSV file to the courts each week. There is a law that states these charges must only reflect "reasonable costs", but every council in the land is telling porkies about the actual cost of running a couple of queries on their tax collection databases.
Add this up across every council and you are looking at some pretty serious numbers. They are criminalising the poorest and profiteering out of those least able to pay. In my view this is nothing short of fraud and councils should now be subject to the Proceeds of Crime Act, whereby the sums illegally confiscated should be returned to the people from whom it was stolen.
But note the tone of the piece I linked to. The Uncle Tom local media, who dare not criticize their council masters in fear of losing the advertising revenue, describe citizens as "tax dodgers", when even the Citizens Advice Bureau is predicting a 20% increase in referrals to bailiffs by councils due to the welfare changes. And this is what passes for local journalism. So bad has this situation got that in Peterborough, it has triggered huge queues at the city’s magistrates’ court.
Courts in Norfolk granted 21,903 liability orders to the county’s councils for non-payment of council tax in 2012/13. Those orders mean people have two weeks to pay up or bailiffs could be sent out to recoup the money on behalf of the councils, including the Liability Order surcharge.
What should be a means of covering basic expenses, councils are using as a very large revenue stream, chiefly by criminalising ordinary people. And while local media prefers to see it in terms of "tax dodgers" and the national media pays no attention at all to it, the best we get from "Citizens Advice" is a banale quote...
"in the space of just two months, we had seen a surge in people seeking advice on how to deal with bailiffs and council tax arrears. Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Bailiffs will see their profits rise at the expense of hard-pressed households."Yeah, no shit Sherlock; So why aren't you guys publicly condemning the state sanctioned fraud and council corruption? Cat got your tongue? And the supposed taxpayers advocacy group is equally weak. "Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Manchester can’t afford for so much Council Tax to be left unpaid". Why sure it can Matthew. It can sack the legions of worthless, lazy and corrupt parasites on its payroll and leave the money in our hands, but Matthew Sinclair and the TPA make their living being a rent-a-quote for lazy local media hacks and thus do not rock the boat.
Similarly you will find bland statements from our elected officials like this "Deputy Leader Cllr Gledhill said “Every penny owed to the Council that is not collected means higher charges for Thurrock residents who do pay on time.", meanwhile councils are sitting on huge cash reserves of anywhere up to £90m and are still advertising for worthless overpaid non-jobbers. Austerity? You're doing it wrong!
This is a national scandal not befitting a first world liberal democracy. Nationwide, councils are estimated to levy in the order of £230 million a year in summons and liability order charges and, if that rate had been sustained for the twenty years the regulations have been in force, the cumulative overcharge could run to £4 billion. That queues of people are forming outside magistrates courts over councils excessive use of the courts, turning courts into revenue streams over houses of justice, is frankly breathtaking and should be a front page story of national importance were our pathetic media on the ball. The one and only worthwhile bit of journalism I have encountered is this.
It's thought potentially, many millions of pounds may have been overcharged by Councils in the pursuit of Council Tax recovery since its introduction in 1992. It has long been speculated that Councils profit from taking householders to court for being late with Council Tax payments. Local Authorities are charged a fraction of the amount passed on to residents in costs. Each Liability Order applied for costs councils £3 according to the Magistrates' Courts fee schedule. Struggling householders are then charged many multiples of this, for example, one London Borough Council imposes £125 costs for making late payments for Council Tax, but for Business rates, this increases to £220 for an identical process.It continues...
The law doesn't allow for profits, only reasonable cost incurred for the administration involved, but councils increase costs as a "deterrent" element or to coerce payment. The same council documented that "the extra cost is seen as a way of encouraging prompt payment", and as a bonus would raise additional income of £38k a year. There is nothing in legislation to support an increase in costs on this basis.As we have seen, with previous enquiries on this issue, councils are very guarded in what information they release, they have no intention of inspecting or investigating their bailiffs and they resist transparency over liability order profiteering. The police will also drag their heels in the hope that you will give up. It is at this point, "tax dodging" becomes both a moral and civic duty. Anyone for a Starbucks? Give us a call on my Vodafone.