From Paul Nicholson, Taxpayers Against Poverty

This brief talks about Haringey, but is applicable nationwide.

DISCRETIONARY PAYMENTS

Benefit claimants who are expected by their Council to pay a %age of the council tax should apply for a discretionary payment to get it written off. Haringey Council has one form which covers both housing and council tax discretionary payments; they are available at council offices and at;

http://www.haringey.gov.uk/781.27_blt_dhp_leaflet_hrngy_benefits_web_- feb_13.pdf.pdf.

Applications must be made on the form. The forms are in English and no other language. In completing the form, include a statement of income & expenditure – including caps, total debts, a doctor’s letter and other relevant facts.  

Councils do not volunteer the information that these payments exist. Applications can be made anytime during the following procedures. Always ensure that the council, the court and the bailiffs are aware of Page 9 of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents covering VULNERABLE SITUATIONS which follows this brief.

If you fail, consider appealing to the Valuation Tribunal within 2 months of the decision; they will sit when needed probably in a hotel (often miles from the claimant) http://www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk/A1Form.aspx.

The vital facts to give the Tribunal, the Council and the court at every stage in the proceedings must show evidence of financial hardship; evidence of income expenditure and debts. Bedroom tax, HB caps and £500 overall benefit cap are relevant.  Doctor’s letters are vital if the claimant is ill or disabled.

THE LIABILITY ORDER

If the claimant still cannot pay the council will apply to the magistrates for a liability order, which adds, say £70, to the arrears. It is vital to go to the court for that when you get the summons. There will be a council official outside ready to make a deal to pay the arrears off at so much a week or month.

THE ENFORCEMENT

It is vital at all stages to tell the council your circumstances or change of circumstances. Failure to notify a change of circumstances within 21 days can result in a financial penalty. If you break the deal, or if you do not go to court and make one, then the liability order granted by the magistrates allows the council to take one or more of the following actions: 

  • Instruct bailiffs to take your goods to settle your debt – this can include your car.
  • You will be liable to pay the bailiffs costs which could substantially increase the debt.
  • Have you committed to prison.
  • Instruct your employer to deduct payments from your salary or wages.
  • Deduct money straight from your jobseekers allowance or income support.
  • Make you bankrupt.
  • Make a charging order against your home.

COMMITTAL HEARING

You cannot be sent to prison without a committal hearing in front of the magistrates. They can only send you to prison if you refuse to pay or for “culpable neglect”. So always make an offer. They also have the power to remit all or part of the tax; so the means statement, the doctor’s letter and the appearance in court are vital. The magistrates are required to call the duty solicitor if they are thinking of sending you to prison and if you have no legal representation.

The bailiffs should only charge £75 if they do not make a visit and £230 if they do and £105 for a visit to collect goods. If there has been a change of circumstances, or they are the first person to meet the vulnerable debtor then they can return the debt to the local authority for reconsideration and a discretionary payment.              

PN 22/05/13      

VULNERABLE SITUATIONS – Issued by the Ministry of Justice in 2012..

Enforcement agents/agencies and creditors must recognise that they each have a role in ensuring that the vulnerable and socially excluded are protected and that the recovery process includes procedures agreed between the agent/agency and creditor about how such situations should be dealt with. The appropriate use of discretion is essential in every case and no amount of guidance could cover every situation, therefore the agent has a duty to contact the creditor and report the circumstances in situations where there is evidence of a potential cause for concern. If necessary, the enforcement agent will advise the creditor if further action is appropriate. The exercise of appropriate discretion is needed, not only to protect the debtor, but also the enforcement agent who should avoid taking action which could lead to accusations of inappropriate behaviour.

Enforcement agents must withdraw from domestic premises if the only person present is, or appears to be, under the age of 18; they can ask when the debtor will be home – if appropriate.

Enforcement agents must withdraw without making enquiries if the only persons present are children who appear to be under the age of 12.

Wherever possible, enforcement agents should have arrangements in place for rapidly accessing translation services when these are needed, and provide on request information in large print or in Braille for debtors with impaired sight.

Those who might be potentially vulnerable include:

  • the elderly;
  • people with a disability;
  • the seriously ill;
  • the recently bereaved;
  • single parent families;
  • pregnant women;
  • unemployed people; and,
  • those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English.

http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/courts/bailiffs-enforcement-officers/national-standards-enforcement-agents.pdf

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