I got fan-mail from Bristow & Sutor...
Please quote: SGC-T 7929
Case ID: 1564-3498104
Client ref: 421788726
Re: Outstanding Council Tax Arrears owed to South Gloucestershire Council
We write with reference to the above and acknowledge receipt of you recent email, the contents of which have been noted.
We must advise that following your payment of £700.00 to the council on 14/03/14 you still had an outstanding balance of £42.50, hence the enforcement agent visit to your property.
The action we have taken is correct as you did not pay your account in full.
On this occasion, we would be willing to waive the enforcement fee of £235.00 but only upon receipt of payment for £42.50. This must be paid by no later than the close of business 08/05/14.
If we do not receive payment of £42.50 by 08/05/14 we will continue with recovery action against you for the amount of £277.50.
We trust this clarifies the situation.
Bristow & Sutor
My reply is below...
Dear anonymous correspondent,
The Liability Order had an outstanding balance of £700. I checked with the council. You only have lawful authority to levy or act in regard to that amount - which has already been paid, thus you have no further business with me.
£42.50 is the amount allowed by the previous regulations for two visits. You know the rules as well as I do (though your reputation online suggests that you may not).
Prior to 14/03/14 no visits were made to my address and no documentation had was left to suggest they had. The reason the balance was paid on 14/03/14 was because I was made aware that day that Bristow & Sutor were handling the case - by way of the attached document.
This is the document on which the bailiff, who refused to properly identify himself, stated an incorrect balance - and as you can see, stated that there was a charge of zero for that first visit. Thus you are losing money through the improper conduct of your enforcement officers. But I am afraid I am not liable for your chap's ineptitude.
I have a letter from the Minister for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis MP) that states attempting to charge for phantom visits is indeed fraud. This essentially restates the DCLG's own guidelines on the matter. I can send you a copy if you like. Consequently, as you have not made a valid demand for fees that could stand up in court, we take the view that there is no outstanding balance - and no fees.
As to the inflated fees, in adding a further £235, you are attempting to charge fees based on the old rules and the new rules concurrently. The liability order was passed to bailiffs before April 06 when the new regulations came into force, so you may only charge by the old rules for this liability order. Attempting to charge these fees is a misrepresentation of power which is also fraud. The law is Schedule 1 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (Consequential, Transitional and Saving Provision) Order 2014.
It really is dull read and anyone would think this stuff was written by aliens, but it does check out, so I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and just assume you are mistaken, rather than accuse you directly of fraud. Given how badly written the law is, I can understand how you could make that mistake.
That being the case, I am sure you are anxious to avoid any confrontations or drawn out court cases. That would waste your time and mine, and further tarnish your reputation - so if we leave the matter here, things need not get ugly or expensive. You would be better investing the time and money in training your bailiffs not to make the kind of careless mistakes that could be construed as fraud.
As you are aware, your industry has become quite complacent in recent years because councils have a culture of denial where complaints are concerned, and the police would rather not get involved, but this is likely to change soon because even the CAB is reporting an upsurge in phantom visits. CCTV is now being deployed to detect such attempts at fraud. You might well be caught out one of these days and I understand the consequences are rather expensive and damaging.
I trust this clarifies the situation and I need not reiterate the general thrust of my previous email.