East Devon District Council

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Policy Corporate Debt policy

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12. Appendix 2

Council Tax Recovery process and procedures

(In accordance with Council Tax (Administration & Enforcement) Regulations 1992 and subsequent Regulations & Amendments)

When a person liable for Council Tax has not made the due payments, we will take the following action:

Reminders

If a statutory instalment is not paid, we send a reminder notice giving seven days to bring the instalments up to date.

If the correct amount on the reminder is paid, within the time limit, but instalments fall behind a second time, we send a second reminder. We may issue a maximum of two reminders on an account in any financial year. Therefore, if a person misses an instalment for a third time in the financial year, or if they do not pay the full amount shown on the first or second reminders within the time limit given, we send a final notice.

Final notices

if a council tax account is in arrears and the right to pay by instalments has been lost, we send a final notice giving 7 days to pay in full.

Summons

if the final notice remains unpaid, a minimum of 14 days after it has been issued, a summons will be sent which will include additional costs (an amount agreed by North & East Devon Magistrates’ Court, which is equal to the costs reasonably incurred, currently £40). Any increase in costs has to be authorised through North & East Devon Magistrates Court.

At the hearing, the Council makes an application for a Liability Order to be granted.

Liability Order

Magistrates grant a Liability Order if they are satisfied that council tax is overdue for payment. The Order gives the Council the power to take further action if the account remains unpaid.

Up to summons stage, all staff can exercise their discretion by allowing a short period for payments to be brought up to date without progressing to the next stage of recovery. Alternatively, they may re-schedule a payment plan to start or finish later. We may place a short-term hold on the account whilst queries regarding discounts, exemptions or benefits are resolved. Staff will, in most cases, agree ongoing interim payments with the customer during the suspension of recovery.

Unless the Council has made a mistake in issuing the summons, proceedings will only be stopped if the debt and costs are paid in full prior to the court date. At this stage, we will still consider arrangements to pay, but this does not stop the application to the court for a Liability Order. Wherever possible, we will encourage people in arrears to make part payments in order to reduce the debt. We also try to obtain employment or benefit details so that when we have a Liability Order, we are able to consider an attachment of earnings or benefit.

The Magistrates can issue a Liability Order whether or not the debtor attends the hearing. We encourage people to contact us as soon as possible before the hearing if they do not agree that they are liable for the debt or dispute the amount shown on the summons.

A Liability Order gives the Council additional powers to recover the unpaid council tax and to demand certain information from debtors that they are legally required to give. The extra powers that we may use include:

  • Attachment of Earnings Order (AOFE) - this lets us collect the money owed directly from a person’s wages.
  • Deductions from benefit (AOFB) - this lets us collect the money owed directly from certain benefits that a person may be in receipt of.
  • Taking Control of Goods- we instruct enforcement agents to collect the debt.
  • Charging Orders – if the debtor owns the property where the debt occurred, and if there is sufficient equity in it, we will consider applying for a Charging Order, providing the Liability Order debts are at least £1000 and we have fully undertaken the steps as detailed on page 4.
  • Forcing sale on a charging order – where we have obtained a charging order we are able to apply to the County Court to recover a debt or to bring an empty property back into use.
  • Bankruptcy - providing the Liability Order debts are at least £750 this action will only be pursued in accordance with page 4.
  • Committal to prison – where Enforcement Agent action has been unsuccessful the Council will consider issuing a committal summons for the debtor to be committed to prison for non-payment. This action would only be taken in accordance with page 4.

We do not need the debtor’s agreement before taking any of the above courses of action.

Once a Liability Order has been obtained in court, we will use the methods of recovery appropriate to the individual case having considered the debtor’s circumstances and offer to pay.

We will send a Notice of Liability Order requesting information about the debtor’s employment and income, unless this information is already held. If there is no response to the request for information within 14 days, the matter may be passed to an enforcement agent. We will provide the customer with details of the different stages and fees that will apply before we refer a case to an enforcement agent.

Prior to cases being referred to the  enforcement agent, we will try to make contact by telephone with the customer to sort out payment of the arrears. We recognise this as a valuable process in getting the customer to engage with us in order for them to avoid enforcement agent fees.

Charging Orders, forcing sale, bankruptcy and committal to prison are all dealt with on an individual basis and potential cases are considered by the Revenues & Benefits Manager before being referred to an authorised officer for approval.

When this policy has been published and will be reviewed

Policy published 11 January 2015 (due for review by 1 April 2018)