Avoiding Liability Orders
We often need to ask for time before being able provide an affordable repayment plan. Often a 28 day pause is granted before a Summons for a Liability Order is issued, but sometimes this is not enough. e.g. where the client’s benefit is stopped and there could be a considerable delay before a decision on whether it will be reinstated we may need to ask for action to be held until the client’s income has stabilised. If we cannot negotiate for action to be held with the Council’s frontline staff and court action is threatened, this type of case can be raised the Council’s senior management.
Secondly a client who offers an affordable repayment plan is sometimes told that it cannot be considered until the Council has obtained a Liability Order, thus incurring court costs both for the Council and for the client. This is another type of case to be raised with the Council’s senior management.
In para. 2.15 of its Policy on the Collection of Council Tax the Council recognises that some types of recovery action may not be appropriate where debtors or other household members are vulnerable, and sets out a list of circumstances where this may be the case. However the list is not exhaustive and staff are expected to make their own decisions based on the circumstances of each case and whether, and if so what, recovery action should be taken. Cases where the Council’s front line staff have been given clear evidence that a client is vulnerable and should be treated differently, but this has had no effect on the Council’s recovery action, can be raised with the Council’s senior management.
Identifying different treatment for vulnerable debtors
There are 3 situations in particular where it is important for clients’ vulnerability to be recognised and for them to be treated differently from the norm:
- Where being involved in court action is likely to cause the client a dangerous level of anxiety and stress as well as court costs
- Where the client’s arrears would otherwise be referred to bailiffs for enforcement
- Where the client has already been approached by bailiffs and enforcement action needs to be stopped.
The Council has signed up to the CIVEA_Code_of_Conduct_and_Good_Practice_Guide that requires them to avoid using bailiffs against vulnerable debtors. It also requires enforcement agencies to halt action against debtors they discover are seriously ill, mentally impaired, or have learning or physical disabilities, and to refer these debtors back to the creditor. The Council’s senior management should be contacted quickly in any of these situations unless front line staff agree to take immediate action.