Thursday, 14 May 2015

Council tax debt collection and children

Civic CentreOver the course of the general election campaign I receive many emails on different subjects. One of them was over council tax debt collection methods where a household has children.

I asked the council about this and got the following reply. I would be interested in hearing from people who have had direct experience of this and the impact this had on them and their families so that we can lobby the council to improve its work in this area. I can be emailed at:

"Council Tax Debt Collection methods

Firstly I need to apologise for my delay in responding to you regarding the enquiry you received from your constituent, as I am sure you can appreciate this is a particularly busy time of year for us, and we are experiencing high volumes of customer contacts.
That said we have also received a number of enquiries of a similar theme, as the Children’s Society have been running a campaign on their website encouraging residents to contact their local Councillors in light of publishing their recent report “The Wolf at the Door”, with regard to the recovery methods Local Authorities employ to recover outstanding Council Tax.
I enclose the link to their website for information:

With regard to the numbers your constituent quotes to in in respect of the number of households in Reading affected by this issue - “4717 households were referred to bailiffs in Reading that's the equivalent of 69 bailiff visits for every 1,000 households”.
I am unable to advise you whether these figures are true or represent Reading as we can not validate the figures they have quoted or validate their source of this information. However I can assure you the figures they have quoted would be highly unlikely. We use “Enforcement Agents” as the very last resort.
It is our local practise before referring a Council Tax debt on to our enforcement agents for collection, that the customer will have received the appropriate number of reminders and opportunities to pay, via arrangement or instalment. Where payment have not been received despite our best efforts to contact the customer via correspondence, we will then check our records to see if we are aware of any Council Tax Support in payment, indicating they are on a low income. If this is the case, and they are in receipt of a qualifying benefit or we hold earned income details we will attempt to apply an attachment of benefit or earnings before taking any further steps. If this is still not successful we will try to reach the customer via telephone in order to make a last attempt to enter in to an arrangement. Only then will we begin to consider the use of enforcement agents.
We refer to the enforcement agents manually, after careful consideration and only ever as a last resort, and only after considering any vulnerability of the household make up. Our Council Tax database does not hold information regarding children within the household, as it is not relevant when deciding liability for Council Tax. However if there is a Council Tax Support claim we may be able to see if children are present and we will be mindful of this when deciding next action, but this only reflects a very small proportion of our Council Tax accounts in the whole.
We have a service level agreement with our enforcement agents, and they will contact via telephone and letter up to 3 times before a visit would be undertaken to recover the debt outstanding to us.
The enforcement agents are highly trained to recognise when contacting a customer if they are presented with a household that appears to be vulnerable including the sick and elderly and will refer back to ourselves for instruction before taking action.
I am not aware of any circumstances where I have been contacted regarding children being in fear as a result of our recovery methods.
We received a freedom of information request from the Children’s Society in January 2015, asking if we could provide information regarding the number of households in Reading in arrears where children were present. As this is not recorded within the Council Tax system we were unable to provide any information regarding this specific point. However we did advise them of our practice which follows “good practice guides for the collection of arrears”. We pointed out to them that our policy is to only use enforcement agents as a very last resort.
I trust that this answers your enquiry and you can assure your constituent that the use of enforcement agents in in Reading is very considered, limited and only ever the last resort."

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