Over the last three years I have written to South Gloucestershire councillors a number of times regarding their grand larceny on liability order costs. Only Ukip Councillor Ben Walker took any interest in it, and coincidentally I have finally received a reply from our Labour Councillor. You know, those famous protectors of the vulnerable. Here's what he had to say...
You won't be surprised by my reply...Mr NorthThank you for your email, I am Adam one of Councillors representing Filton and I sit in the committee making decisions on Council Tax Support and therefore the best to reply to your question. The issue of Local Council Tax Relief is a very difficult one to deal with. Ian Roger & I are very aware of the real impact this is having on those requiring support.With regards to the costs & fees incurred by the Authority collecting Council Tax, those fees are passed on. For example in the year 2013/2014 7,495 cases were charged £55 each in costs. Of these only 4,436 actually went to court to obtain a liability order and those cases incurred a further £30 in costs. The authority has to pay HM Court Service per summons issued.Surcharges to use a credit card are imposed by the bank at 1.8%. The surcharges for last year were £8,561.87. The Council doesn’t make a single penny from these surcharges.The Council charges each customer that goes into arrears up to £85 in summons & liability order costs. These costs are calculated by the finance department, a breakdown is available to the court if they request to see it, to cover such things as;Staff hours to process those accounts that are in arrears and what action to take once the order has been granted by the Magistrates court.IT/Computer processing time.StationaryPostage and post room costs, to print & pack notices.Magistrates fee.The council has a duty to collect the maximum through annual council tax. Those people that fail to pay in accordance with their demand do have recovery action taken against them to protect the interest of the council. The court costs charged are by comparison with other local authorities not the highest, for example Bristol City charges £103 on the issue of a summons.With regards to the increase of people visiting Citizens Advice I am sure there will have been a significant surge in demand as the relief available on Council Tax has been reduced. The reason for this is simple Central Government have imposed a year on year reduction on the support grant provided to authorities and this means that the most needy in society will be effected. South Glos supported the 1st years reduction in funding by utilising funds from reserves but that is not a sustainable position.
The councillor workshop for the new scheme for next year will start in July as there will be a legal requirement to consult with the public and the scheme is required to be voted upon in December. I will ask that you directly contacted during the consultation period.I appreciate that you will not have received the answer that you are looking for but I can reassure you that all Labour Councillors are fighting to protect & support the most vulnerable in society.Cllr Adam MonkFilton Ward.01454 86405607801 999699
Dear Mr Monk,
A few points...
A system to administer council tax would have to exist with or without defaulters or people in arrears. Speaking as an enterprise scale database developer, I know full well that creating and running a check query for those in arrears is a very simple operation that requires no great programming talent. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume any such process would be written into the software as a primary requirement, which would have economies of scale over the database life-cycle. In fact, such a system would run quite comfortably off a standard SQL database server which can be procured from HP for less than £10k. I run bigger databases than South Gloucestershire Council.
So even factoring in public sector waste, the whole system could be built (even in-house) on one years liability order takings alone, which (even using your revised figures) still amounts to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Meanwhile, the actual court costs amount to £3 per order. Further to this, you state that there are staff hours involved in assessing each case. This is a lie. Given that enforcement was directed against me for the matter of nine pence, this tells me that absolutely zero human interaction is invested in the process whatsoever.
Essentially you have sought to fob me off with the litany of boilerplate excuses and lies I have read many times before, which I could have got as a press release from any council in the land. Councillors should be cutting through this dishonest mantra rather than repeating it. If not, what exactly are you for? We vote for representation, not press officers. Your inaction makes you a defender of state larceny, rather than a representative of the people. You have forgotten who you serve and are acting as a spokesman for the machine. And by the way, that Bristol Council is greedier than South Gloucestershire is not a mitigating factor.
As for your reassurance that "all Labour Councillors are fighting to protect & support the most vulnerable in society", I have great reason to doubt your sincerity since you have clearly no interest in pressing the council on their (unlawful) use of "costs" as a revenue stream. The system is piling masses of costs on those who can least afford it, and our trigger happy council is pushing thousands of people through the courts and into the hands of profiteering thugs like Rundle & Co, while your own recovery officers turn a blind eye to unlawful behaviour. If you were at all sincere you would be ripping into our local kleptocracy, but your inaction is tacit consent to it.
I take the view that the measure of a good councillor is one who will defend the public against authority, not be the voice of it. You have clearly decided which side you are on. And it is not ours. It is the moral obligation of every councillor to minimise the footprint that government has on our wallets, yet the council is running a huge deficit, reducing services and yet bills only ever go upward - sucking money out of our wallets and our community. Far from protecting and supporting the vulnerable, you are creating more of them. Shouldn't you get your own house in order before demanding more from us?
You complain that central grants have been reduced, but councils do have the autonomy and authority to mitigate this, and that does not excuse the fact this grubby little "costs" scam has been going on for years. Where is the value in piling on costs for those who are already struggling to make ends meet?