Patricia Pearl - Small Claims Procedure - A Practical Guide


An excellent guide for the layperson in how to use the County Court - a must if you are intending to start a claim.

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  1. #1
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    Default Council Tax Liability Order Applications

    I have a question or two about council tax liability order applications; in particular with regards how costs are agreed, for example with the Magistrates' court.

    Background info

    First off, this is the letter North East Lincolnshire council sent Grimsby Magistrates' court last year when it decided it wanted to increase the revenue generated from council tax liability order applications by changing the composition of the summons/liability order fees.

    It increased the overall cost by 23% as well as front loading all the charge to the summons fee (effectively a 120% hike).


    Council's letter notifying the court it was increasing costs
    Dear Deputy Justices' Clerk


    Court Costs for Council Tax and National Non Domestic Rates

    I am writing to advise you that North East Lincolnshire Council has taken the decision to increase the court costs which it charges to tax payers for the non payment of Council Tax and National Non Domestic Rates.

    The costs to be charged for a summons for Council Tax and National Non Domestic Rates will be 70.00. There will be no additional costs for the liability order. The increase will take effect from 1st April 2011.

    If there is any further information you require then please don’t hesitate to contact me directly on 01472 ****** or via e mail at *****.

    I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks for your continued cooperation and support.


    Yours Sincerely

    Income and Collection Manager

    Simply notifying the court of its intentions is clearly not something councils should be doing regarding how much (if any) costs are awarded to them.

    Also, how is it possible for councils to specify on the summons document a predetermined amount for either the summons or liability orders which will be imposed on the taxpayer?

    Magistrates would need to determine this at the council tax liability order hearing. These costs would vary from one hearing to another because a key factor in determining the costs incurred by the council would be the number processed in the rubber stamping exercise of the bulk hearing.

    Does anyone have further details about how the level of costs imposed on council taxpayers in respect of liability order applications are agreed and authorised by the Magistrates' court? Any links to legislation?

    Also any opinions of the legitimacy of councils specifying the amount of costs imposed on the actual summons document when a summons is only a means of inviting the defendant to court to answer the complaint?

    Thanks for any information.

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    Default Re: Council Tax Liability Order Applications

    Not sure if this is what your after, here's a link to the regulations regarding summons and costs [HTML]http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1992/613/regulation/34/made[/HTML] doesn't seem to mention how its set.


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    Default Re: Council Tax Liability Order Applications

    Quote Originally Posted by revshelp View Post
    Not sure if this is what your after, here's a link to the regulations regarding summons and costs [HTML]http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1992/613/regulation/34/made[/HTML] doesn't seem to mention how its set.
    Thanks!

    Regulation 34 raises the question of how it can be possible for a debtor to stop the recovery process going to the liability order stage by settling outstanding council tax plus the costs imposed for the summons.

    i.e
    34.–(5) If, after a summons has been issued in accordance with paragraph (2) but before the application is heard, there is paid or tendered to the authority an amount equal to the aggregate of—

    (a) the sum specified in the summons as the sum outstanding or so much of it as remains outstanding (as the case may be); and

    (b) a sum of an amount equal to the costs reasonably incurred by the authority in connection with the application up to the time of the payment or tender,

    the authority shall accept the amount and the application shall not be proceeded with.
    At any normal Magistrates' court hearing it would be Magistrates that determine the level of costs which would need to be awarded at the actual hearing.

    To implement Regulation 34(5) above, the costs would need to be assumed as no court hearing has taken place at that stage.


  4. #4
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    Default Re: Council Tax Liability Order Applications

    Having read around a bit I found some advice but couldn't find the specific regulations.

    The council it would seem to need to notify the justices clerk of the "standard" costs it intends to charge for that year and the clerk needs to raise any objections. If at summons stage the council tax has been paid in full but the cost remain unpaid, the court can still issue a Liability Order for the original costs but not award any additional costs. The defendant can challenge the costs awarded at the Liability Hearing and equally the council can ask for the costs to be increased if it has incurred additional work e.g. hired legal consultants. So in effect the costs are still at the Magistrates discretion.

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    Default Re: Council Tax Liability Order Applications

    Quote Originally Posted by revshelp View Post
    Having read around a bit I found some advice but couldn't find the specific regulations.

    The council it would seem to need to notify the justices clerk of the "standard" costs it intends to charge for that year and the clerk needs to raise any objections. If at summons stage the council tax has been paid in full but the cost remain unpaid, the court can still issue a Liability Order for the original costs but not award any additional costs. The defendant can challenge the costs awarded at the Liability Hearing and equally the council can ask for the costs to be increased if it has incurred additional work e.g. hired legal consultants. So in effect the costs are still at the Magistrates discretion.
    The council will always run the expected costs past the court in advance - this stops the court deciding at a hearing that they don't think the costs are appropriate.

    When a summons is issued any applied costs are treated exactly the same as any council tax shown on the summons and a Liability Order can be granted against just the costs. Costs can be applied for the Liability Order granting irrespective of whether its for summons costs/council tax or a combination.


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    Default Re: Council Tax Liability Order Applications

    The Council Tax Practice Note Number 9 Page 8, item 3.3 says:
    3.3 The form of the council tax summons is not prescribed and authorities should liaise with the Clerk to the Justices to agree an acceptable format.......The summons should set out the sum outstanding for which the authority is applying for a liability order. It can also state the costs incurred to date and point out if these costs plus the sum outstanding are paid then the authority will not proceed with the application for a liability order.
    It seems the rules are being bent to cater for the mass processing of these council tax liability orders. It must be as a result of the government's desire to automate, as far as possible, the judicial process.

    The summons is a means of informing the defendant of the date, time and venue of the court hearing and should not include information advising what costs the defendant may pay to avoid the order being granted.

    A predetermined amount of costs cannot be known and therefore not, with any credibility, be agreed by the Magistrates' court in advance. The letter detailed in my initial post is evidence that Magistrates' courts give a free rein to councils to determine their own level of costs. It also seems unlikely that authorities ever have to justify their claims.

    Interestingly, in the same document linked to above, also on page 8, item 3.18 states:
    “3.18....The order will include the costs reasonably incurred by the authority in securing the order. Whilst it is likely that authorities will have discussed a scale of fees 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
    Costs imposed on residents can never be determined in advance because a higher number than that anticipated processed through the applications would mean that each defendant would have paid above the amount the council reasonably incurred.

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