Collaborating with the Council to improve its procedure for collecting Council Tax Arrears
What are the problems?
Many of our clients face stressful court action if they fall behind with their monthly payments of Council Tax and fall into arrears, and some are unfairly subjected to enforcement by bailiffs.
Jane* is a client who ran up debts, including Council Tax arrears, while she was dependent on benefits but made arrangements to repay her creditors by monthly installments when she got a job. Her other creditors accepted her repayment plans, but the council would not consider her repayment plan for her Council Tax arrears. It told her to wait until it had taken court action to get a Liability Order for her to repay the whole amount. So unnecessary court costs were added to her debt.
Selena* is an elderly widow living on her own in social housing who came to us for assistance to deal with her Council Tax arrears. We helped her provide a monthly repayment plan that the council accepted. Despite this, the council passed her debt to bailiffs to enforce. They began to press her to pay the full amount owing, causing her considerable, unnecessary stress.
Most worrying of all are cases where our clients cannot use the internet or understand complex correspondence or have severe mental health problems so that they are unable to deal with their debts consistently without constant support. There can be no progress when the council fails to recognise that these clients are vulnerable and continues to apply its standard procedure for recovering Council Tax arrears without collaborating with those who are trying to support them.
What we are doing to help
We have reviewed our clients’ experience of the council’s procedure for collecting Council Tax arrears and as a result of the problems identified have asked for a meeting with the head of the council’s collection of Council Tax. Our aim is to establish a closer working relationship with the council to improve the operation of its procedure for recovering Council Tax arrears from our clients. Nationally Citizens Advice has agreed with the Local Government Association a Good Practice Protocol improves local authorities’ procedures for collecting Council Tax arrears and several London Councils have signed up to it. We hope to persuade Richmond Council to do the same.