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15

th
September 2014


PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
Mr Xxxx Yyyyy
XY Xxxxxxx Yyyyy
Grimsby
North East Lincolnshire
AB12 3XY


www.nelincs.gov.uk

Chief Executive
Rob Walsh



Dear Mr Yyyyy,

I refer to the letter dated in which it was confirmed that your complaint had been escalated to
the final stage of the Council's complaints procedure. The issues you have raised have been
investigated which has included a review of the stage 1 response. This investigation has been
undertaken independently of the officers that have previously handled your complaint.

The enclosed investigating officer's report details the findings of this investigation which I
consider has been correctly and fairly carried out in accordance with the Council's Feedback
Policy.

If you are not satisfied with this response and the outcome of your complaint, you have the right
to take the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman, whose contact details are as follows:

LGO Advice Team
The Local Government Ombudsman
PO Box 4771
Coventry CV40EH
Tel: 0845 602 1983
Fax: 024 7682 0001

I would like to thank you for bringing these issues to the Council's attention. This has been, of
necessity, a formal response driven by our Feedback Policy and procedures, designed to
ensure full, fair and impartial examination of concerns which arise. I am personally always very
keen to see how we can improve our services and learning from complaints is one way of
achieving this. Although you may not be happy about all aspects of my conclusions, I am
hoping you will accept that this matter has had proper consideration.

Yours sincerely


Rob Walsh
Chief Executive



Municipal Offices, Town Hall Square, Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire. DN31 1HU
Telephone (01472) 324700 email: rob.walsh@nelincs.gov.uk
North East Lincolnshire Council

Stage 2 Corporate Complaint Investigation

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

Head of Service: Sharon Wroot (Assistant Director - Finance)
Service Area: Council Tax
Investigating Sara Hemming (Team Manager - Strategy, Policy and Projects)
Complaint Reference: NEL/8009/1415


Final decision of Investigating Officer:
This investigation has found that the Council acted in accordance with the Council Tax (Administration
and Enforcement) Regulation 1992 and the Guidance to local councils on good practice in the collection
of Council Tax arrears at all times and thus the Liability Order was obtained lawfully and should remain
on Mr Yyyyy's account.

The complaint is not upheld.

Summary of complaint:
Mr Yyyyy considers that the Liability Order to enforce the outstanding £60 court summons costs was
obtained fraudulently by North East Lincolnshire Council and therefore requires it to be removed from
his account.

Mr Yyyyy's desired outcome of this complaint is to have the £60 court summons costs removed from his
account and for North East Lincolnshire Council to propose a provisional sum as compensation for
damages for refusing to resolve this matter.


How the complaint was considered:

Sara Hemming, Investigating Officer, met with Mr Yyyyy at the Municipal Offices on Friday 8
th
August.

An examination of correspondence received from Mr Yyyyy, including:

• Formal complaint letter 15/03/14
• Supplementary complaint letter 14/07/14
• Request to escalate to Stage 2 letter 28/07/14
• Draft "case stated" (and representations made on that case) with regards the High Court
application and Grounds of appeal etc. submitted in the Information Rights Tribunal, supplied by
Mr Yyyyy on 10/08/14

An examination of e-mails between Mr Yyyyy and lan Hollingsworth, Information Governance,
Complaints and Consultation sent between 15/03/14 and 28/07/14

An examination of correspondence from North East Lincolnshire Council including:

• Stage 1 complaint response letter 24th July 2014
• Council Tax reminder letter 12/09/12



• Council Tax summons letter 10/10/14
• Recovery of Council Tax letter 05/11/12

Sara Hemming, Investigating Officer interviewed Neil Smith, Court Enforcement Officer on Wednesday
13
th
August.

Sara Hemming, Investigating Officer interviewed Richard Catlyn, Lead Officer Local Taxation on
Wednesday 20
th
August.

Cabinet report "Review of Council Tax court costs" 17/02/14

The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulation 1992

Council Tax - Guidance to local councils on good practice in the collection of Council Tax arrears.

Findings:

The concerns raised by Mr Yyyyy have been addressed and the relevant findings are detailed below.

Mr Yyyyy believes that the Liability Order obtained to enforce the outstanding £60 court summons costs
was obtained fraudulently by North East Lincolnshire Council. This complaint is not upheld.

The Guidance to local councils on good practice in the collection of Council Tax arrears ( the Guidance)
makes it clear that enforcement is a necessary and important part of Local Authority activity and that
every penny of council tax that is not collected means a higher council tax for the law-abiding citizen who
does pay on time. The Guidance goes on to state that where a payment is overdue, a bill payer should
receive at least three statutory communications before further action is taken:

• Reminder for payment
• Court summons
• Notification that the liability order has been granted and unless the amount owing is paid, bailiffs
are likely to follow

The Guidance also states that local authorities should ensure that at each stage full information is
provided about what the bill payer can do to avoid the situation. This should include where they can go
for help and advice, be clear about the next steps and that charges for the court summons and for
liability orders should be clear on all documentation with clear information on how they can be paid and
how they will be collected if not.

In Mr Yyyyy's case he received each of these communications. The reminder letter dated 12/09/12
clearly indicates that an instalment of £85.52 was missed and that if this was not received by the
26/09/12 that the total balance of £437.52 would become payable immediately. This letter also made it
clear that if payment was not received that a summons would be issued, without further notice, and that
£70 costs would be incurred. This letter also clearly explained how payments could be made and how to
get advice if Mr Yyyyy was experiencing a debt problem.

Mr Yyyyy was given every opportunity to pay the initial missed payment and then the full amount
outstanding, without incurring any charges. He was also informed of the consequences of not making
those payments and how much the costs associated with this course of action would be. Following
receipt of the summons letter Mr Yyyyy did make a payment of £437.52 plus an additional £10 for costs,
this left and outstanding sum of £60.

It is Mr Yyyyy's belief that North East Lincolnshire Council is obliged to calculate the level of costs
incurred in individual cases who exercise their legal right to challenge them. The Council Tax
(Administration and Enforcement) Regulation 1992 (The Regulations) allow the Council to make an order
in respect of a sum of an amount equal to the costs reasonably incurred in obtaining the order, the
regulations do not specify what expenditure mayor may not be included within the level of cost charged
to the non-payer.

The Cabinet report from 17/2/14 explains that it is not practical to calculate the level of costs incurred in
each individual case and therefore a reasonable estimate must be made of the total of such costs,
divided by the estimated number of applications to be made for a summons. The Regulations do not
place any statutory requirement on the Council to calculate the costs on an individual basis.

Mr Yyyyy also believes that North East Lincolnshire Council inappropriately raises revenue through
Magistrates summons costs. The Guidance states that local authorities are only permitted to charge
reasonable costs for the court summons and liability order and that in the interests of transparency they
should be able to provide a breakdown, on request, showing how these costs are calculated. North East
Lincolnshire Council provided a detailed breakdown based on activity and costs on it's website for
2012/13, this was updated for 2013/14. These breakdowns have been through stringent checks both
internally and by the District Auditors.

The Clerk to the Justices is kept informed of the costs that are to be charged for a summons for Council
Tax. The Guidance highlights that while it is likely that authorities will have discussed costs with the Clerk
to Justices it should be recognised that the Court may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by
way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority. In Mr
Yyyyyy's case he chose to attend court and provide evidence to the magistrates outlining why he felt that
the remaining £60 summons costs were unreasonable, in this case the Liability Order was granted for the
outstanding amount, this would indicate that the Court were satisfied that the amount claimed was
reasonably incurred by the Council.

Details of final recommendations:

This investigation has found that the Council acted in accordance with the Regulations and the Guidance
at all times.

No justification can be found to remove the £60 court summons costs from Mr Yyyyy’s account and the
investigation cannot provide any evidence to support Mr Yyyyy's request for compensation for damages.

The recommendation is that North East Lincolnshire Council consider the options available to them to
recover the outstanding £60 and decide on what will be the appropriate course of action to take. The
Council should ensure that Mr Yyyyy is duly informed of any action that is to be taken.


Investigators decision on behalf of the Chief Executive:

Sara Hemming

Head of Service:

Sharan Wroot