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Found 17 results

  1. This is yet another important decision from the Local Government Ombudsman and one that once again makes clear that if a debtor who is subject to bailiff enforcement considers that he may be 'vulnerable', he must be prepared to provide evidence and outline how his 'vulnerability' affects his ability to deal with the debt. In brief, Mr B's complaint was as follows: Mr B incurred 5 penalty charge notices. He believes that there is a law from the year 1600 that means that he can’t be fined and so can park anywhere. He and his wife both have Blue Badges and he considered that being granted a Blue Badge means that he has meet the criteria for ‘vulnerability’. Mr B told the Council he was a vulnerable person. However, he had not explained why he considers he is vulnerable. He was of the opinion that it is the Council’s job to prove he is not. Mr B complained a business centre issued the warrants rather than a court and so were invalid. Mr B complains that the bailiffs did not have the correct warrants. The Council has said the court sends the warrants electronically and so there are no paper copies. PS: A copy of the decision can be read in the following post.
  2. Devon County County (16 017 119) Decision date: 17th August 2017. Published on the LGO website: 17th November 2017 Vulnerability and bailiff enforcement is a subject that is of great importance and sadly, it is a subject that is very much misunderstood. The LGO have made a number of decisions regarding the 'definition' of vulnerability and the following case is another one where the LGO confirm that a 'vulnerable' debtor must provide evidence to demonstrate how their vulnerability affects their ability to deal with the debt. PS: The following is a shortened copy of the decision. A full copy can be accessed from the link at the foot of the post. Background: (9) Mr B has received 5 penalty charge notices (PCN) for parking offences since 2014. A parking enforcement officer placed two on the car and Mr B received three through the post. On the telephone, Mr B told me that he did not take account of parking laws as he believes there is a law from the year 1600 that means he can’t be fined and so can park anywhere. (16) The Council has said that Mr B first used the words’ vulnerable’ about his wife and him both having Blue Badges on 3 December 2015. (17) The Council said it advised Mr B on 5 July to contact the bailiffs for them to consider his ‘vulnerability’ and for him to provide them with whatever evidence they need to confirm his status as vulnerable. The Council advised Mr B that if the bailiff did deem his to be a vulnerable household the Council would withdraw the warrant and cease activity. (18) The Council said Mr B did not supply the bailiffs with supporting evidence. It has said the blue badge issued to Mr B, shows they have met the criteria of limited mobility to have a blue badge issued but may not necessarily be vulnerable. (19) The Council says that Mr B thinks that his vulnerability means that he is exempt from paying these fines. The Council says it disagrees with Mr B’s interpretation. It considers he is still liable to pay these fines, but any vulnerability means the Council has to consider extra discretion over how these fines are paid, e.g. deferring payment periods, accepting lower instalments until debts paid. (20) The Council has asked Mr B to provide supporting written evidence of his ‘vulnerability’ for it to find out if there are other conditions from which he suffers that may fit his interpretation of vulnerability, e.g. Mental health, depression, post- traumatic stress, at risk of self-harm, inability to understand and engage with the process. The Council says that if Mr B does meet any of these criteria, then it may withdraw the warrants and close the cases. Mr B has not provided supporting evidence. Analysis from the Local Government Ombudsman: (23) Mr B complained a business centre issued the warrants rather than a court and so were invalid. The TEC is the court appointed by the Secretary of State and the Department of Transport to deal with registration of debts arising from penalty charge notices. I can find no fault on this point. (24) Mr B complains the bailiffs did not have the correct warrants. The Council has said the court sends the warrants electronically and so there are no paper copies. For completeness, I will ask the Council to send me its electronic records showing the warrants but I can see no evidence of fault on this point. (25) Mr B believes that under the Taking Control of Goods National Standards 2010, (updated 2015) as soon as he told the bailiff company finds out he is vulnerable (with no explanation) they have to withdraw. He believes that he does not need to provide details of his details of his vulnerability; it is then the Council’s job to prove he isn’t. (26) The Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013, part 2, regulation 10 set out the circumstances in which an enforcement agent may not take control of goods. It says an enforcement agent may not take control of goods of a debtor where a child or vulnerable person is the only person present. The legislation does not give any further guidance about how a vulnerable person is defined. (27) Mr B told the Council he was a vulnerable person. However, he has not explained why he considers he is vulnerable. He considers that it is the Council’s job to prove he is not. (28) It cannot be right that a person can say they are vulnerable and all outstanding debts are written off without them giving further information. If this was the case, then there would be no way for the Council to enforce any debt collection as anybody could claim vulnerability without evidence. I do consider it reasonable for Mr B to explain why he considers himself to be vulnerable. (29) In any case, a vulnerable person still has to pay the fines, but any vulnerability means the Council has to consider extra discretion over how the debtor pays the fines, e.g. deferring payment periods or accepting lower instalments. It should also allow the vulnerable person time to get help and advice. (30) I have found no fault in the Council’s actions. The Council gave Mr B the opportunity to appeal the PCN’s and to appeal to the court. No further recovery action has been taken once he told the bailiffs and Council he is vulnerable. However, I do consider it reasonable for him to give details of his vulnerability if he wants the Council to consider removing the warrants. http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/transport-and-highways/parking-and-other-penalties/16-017-119
  3. The following is a copy of a very recent decision from the Local Government Ombudsman. This particular decision is a vitally important one as it refers to the correct procedure that should be followed if an individual has had his goods taken to settle another person's debt. In almost all cases, the goods in question would be a motor vehicle. PS: As the decision is very lengthly, I have split it into two separate posts. London Borough of Ealing (15 016 609) Summary: The Council’s enforcement agents were not at fault when they seized Mr X’s car to recover an outstanding penalty charge. But they failed to advise Mr X of his right to make a claim under the Civil Procedure Rules. The Council has agreed to take the steps recommended to remedy the injustice caused. The complaint The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains that enforcement agents acting for the Council removed and eventually sold his car to pay for a debt which related to the previous owner. Mr X says he provided the Council and enforcement agents with proof he had bought the car in good faith but they did not accept it. Mr X would like the cost of the car refunded. He would also like the Council to reimburse him for the cost of possessions he lost when the enforcement agents seized the car and the hire car costs he has since incurred. The History The car referred to in this complaint was formerly owned by Mr Z – who previously lived at the same address as Mr X. The Council issued a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) to Mr Z. When Mr Z did not respond to the PCN, the Council obtained a court order which allowed its enforcement agents to recover the money owed. On 10 September 2016 the enforcement agents issued Mr Z with a Notice of Enforcement (NOE). This told him that enforcement action had started and gave him 14 days to settle the balance or agree a payment plan. Schedule 12 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (“the Act”) says that once enforcement agents issues an NOE, the goods of a debtor are “bound”. This means the debtor cannot sell them or give them away. But Schedule 12 of the Act says that if a person buys goods from a debtor which were bound, they can keep them if they can show they obtained the goods: in good faith;for valuable consideration (normally money but can be something else of value); andwithout knowing the belongings were bound. Mr Z did not respond to the NOE and on 28 September 2016 enforcement agents visited his home address. The car was parked outside his home address and the enforcement agents took control of the car. When enforcement agents take control of goods they are deciding which goods they can sell to meet the person’s debt. Once an enforcement agent takes control of goods they are known as “controlled goods”. Enforcement agents will not always remove controlled goods straight away. The enforcement agents posted an inventory to Mr Z’s home which said the car was now controlled goods. They also affixed a notice to the car. To stop the enforcement agents removing the car Mr Z needed to pay the outstanding debt. Mr Z did not respond and the enforcement agents returned to his home on 03 November 2015. They clamped the car and posted a letter to Mr Z asking him to make contact and settle the debt or they would remove the car. On 03 November 2015 Mr X emailed the enforcement agent. Mr X said he bought the car on 20 September 2015. Mr X provided a copy of a handwritten receipt for £3000 and a copy of the “New keeper’s details” section from the car’s V5C (its registration document). When someone buys a car they keep this section and the seller sends the rest of the V5C to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). The DVLA then issues a new V5C. Mr X also supplied an email confirmation from the DVLA which showed they had been notified using its online service that he was the registered keeper of the vehicle. The DVLA’s online service is relatively new. On 05 November 2015 the enforcement agents visited Mr Z’s home address and removed the car. The enforcement agents had not heard from Mr Z and they did not consider Mr X to have provided sufficient evidence he had bought the car. Mr X emailed the enforcement agents on the same day. He explained he had paid £3000 for the car on 20 September and had already spent £1100 on maintenance. Mr X gave them two days notice and said he would then be seeking legal advice. On 09 November 2016 the enforcement agents emailed Mr X. They set out the events to date and said that “The evidence you have provided to date is a handwritten receipt on a page out of a diary and the new keeper supplement for the logbook. Neither of these documents prove ownership of the vehicle.” The enforcement agents did not make reference to the email from the DVLA Mr X supplied. The enforcement agents also said “We notice the vehicle has remaining [sic] untaxed since 20/09/05, it is illegal to keep an untaxed car on a public highway.” The enforcement agents concluded by saying “we are satisfied that all you have done is changed the registered keeper with the DVLA to avoid seizure of the vehicle...As you live at the same address as Mr Z we strongly suggest you decide between you who will be setting the balance as the vehicle will be released to auction on 19 November 2015.” Mr X replied on the same day and said he had “instructed [his] solicitors to take this matter further.” On 19 November 2015 the enforcement agents emailed Mr X and explained they would sell the car at auction unless they received payment. They did not receive payment and the car was sold. In January 2016 Mr X complained to the Ombudsman. Because the Council had not considered Mr X’s concerns through its formal complaints process the Ombudsman asked it to do this. The Council provided formal responses to Mr X as follows: The Council was therefore satisfied the car was transferred while a warrant was held against it. If the car had been transferred at the beginning of September then the DVLA would have issued a V5C earlier than the beginning of December. If Mr X remained unhappy he could complain to the Ombudsman. Was there fault causing injustice? The Ombudsman is not an appeal body and does not retake decisions which were properly made by a Council (or parties acting on its behalf). The Ombudsman’s role is limited to checking if there was any fault in the way a council made a decision. If there was no fault or flaw, the Ombudsman may not, by law, intervene in the judgment reached by a Council. This is the case even where the Ombudsman may have given different weight to a piece of evidence or reached a different decision on the same facts. I do not consider the Council’s enforcement agents were at fault when they seized the car Mr X says he bought from Mr Z. This is because of the following: Mr X says he bought the car on 20 September 2015. This was after the enforcement agents issued the NOE and when the car became “bound”. The enforcement agents took control of the car on 28 September 2015 but Mr X did not contact them until 03 November 2015 when they clamped the car. Mr X showed the enforcement agents an undated handwritten receipt and an undated “change of keeper” section from the V5C. Mr X says he bought the car in good faith, for valuable consideration, and without knowing it was bound goods. Mr X also sent the enforcement agents an email from the DVLA showing he had told them he was now the registered keeper. I note the enforcement agents did not directly refer to this in their email dated 09 November 2015 – they simply mentioned the undated documents. But they did also say “we are satisfied that all you have done is changed the registered keeper with the DVLA to avoid seizure of the vehicle.” They also noted the vehicle was not taxed from 20 September 2015. A vehicle’s tax is automatically cancelled when the DVLA’s online system is used to register a change of keeper. I am therefore satisfied the enforcement agents did take into account all of the information provided by Mr X. But they did not consider Mr X to have provided enough supporting evidence that his purchase of the car was genuine. This was a decision they were entitled to take and meant they were entitled to seize the car. I also note that: Mr X did not provide the enforcement agents with any proof of insurance from 20 September 2015. Arranging insurance is normally the first thing a person does when they buy a new car. I asked Mr X about this and he said his insurance company needed a copy of the V5C before they could insure it. This is not normal practice. Mr X did not provide the enforcement agents with any evidence he had withdrawn money from the bank to pay for the car. As part of my investigation I asked Mr X about this. He said he borrowed the money from his brother and repaid it instalments. In response to my enquiries Mr X told me he sent the Council a revised V5C in late October / early November. The Council did not return it and so Mr X had to apply for a duplicate – this is why the V5C he has was issued in December. Mr X cannot provide proof he sent the V5C in late October / early November and the Council says it has no record of receiving the document. It is not possible for the Ombudsman to establish exactly what happened. Mr Z did not provide any evidence in support of Mr X’s case. Mr X sent me bank statements for October, November and December 2015. These show payments to the DVLA each month with a reference number which matches the car’s registration number. Mr X says these payments were for the car’s vehicle tax. But there is no evidence Mr X showed this evidence to the enforcement agents. For the reasons set out above I cannot uphold this part of Mr X’s complaint. This decision should not be seen as setting any precedent about what constitutes evidence of ownership. Each case should be considered based on the evidence provided and the particular circumstances of the case.
  4. When the Taking Control of Goods regulations came into effect in 2014, they not only provided a much clearer and fixed fee scale, they also introduced a fairer system whereby, in order to keep bailiff fees to the barest minimum, (of just £75) the debtor is given the opportunity of avoiding a personal bailiff visit (and an enforcement fee of £235 being applied) by paying the debt (including the Compliance Fee of £75) by the date outlined on the Notice of Enforcement....or alternatively, by agreeing a payment arrangement with the enforcement company. Most payment arrangements are for a short period of approx 3-4 months (sometimes even more). Where problems have arisen since 2014, is that many people receiving a Notice of Enforcement from the bailiff company, try to avoid paying bailiff fees by visiting the local authorities website and making an online payment of just the debt owed to the council. Such avoidance methods do not work. This is because, the regulations are very specific in that once the Notice of Enforcement has been issued, the debt owed includes the compliance fee of £75. Furthermore, and this is again in the regulations, any payments made after the Notice of Enforcement has been issued must first be applied towards discharging the Compliance fee (of £75). The bottom line is that if a payment is made to a local authority (minus bailiff fees) after the date on when a Notice of Enforcement is issued, the enforcement company are entitled to their compliance fee (of £75). The effect being that any payment made to a local authority (minus bailiff fees) must be considered as merely a part payment and accordingly, the warrant is not satisfied…and bailiff enforcement can.....and will continue. Since 2014, debt avoidance websites have inundated local authorities with many hundreds of Freedom of Information requests enquiring as to whether councils retain these online payment or pass the compliance fee to the enforcement company etc. These pointless requests have achieved absolutely nothing. There have been quite a few Local Government Ombudsman’s decisions regarding this scenario but a very recent one is of interest because, in this particular case, the local authority adjusted the amount of the Liability Order but failed to inform the enforcement company. The debtor also paid the council direct (minus bailiffs). A have copied the decision in the next post.
  5. The following LGO decision (which was only released this week) is a vitally important one as it deals with a number of misconceptions and inaccurate advice regarding bailiff enforcement. For instance, this decision addresses the following misconceptions:
  6. This is another recent decision from the Local Government Ombudsman. This particular case addresses the common subject of single parents and whether or not they may be considered 'vulnerable' for the purposes of bailiff enforcement. There have been a couple of Ombudsman's decisions regarding 'vulnerability' and as in this particular case, the LGO confirm that it is for the debtor to provide evidence as to how their 'vulnerability' affects their ability to pay or deal with the debt. LGO Decision: North Hertfordshire District Council Miss X complains the Council has used bailiffs to try and collect a disputed council tax debt, even though she is vulnerable. The Ombudsman will not investigate the complaint as she has not seen any evidence of fault in the Council’s actions. The complaint 1 The complainant, who I shall call Miss X, complains via her MP that the Council has used bailiffs to try and recover a disputed council tax debt, despite her telling the bailiffs she is a vulnerable person. Back to top How I considered this complaint 4 I have considered Miss X’s complaint to us, the information her MP sent and the Council’s to Miss X’s complaint to it. Miss X has had the opportunity to comment, via her MP, on an earlier version of my final view. What I found 5 In 2010 the Magistrates’ Court granted the Council a liability order for a council tax debt it said Miss X owed. The Council passed the debt to its bailiffs in the same year. 6 Miss X disputed the debt, saying she should have received council tax benefit. The Council said she had made claim for backdated council tax benefit, but this was refused as it was outside the time limit for backdating benefit. 7 I note the points above as background, but I am not looking at why Miss X owes the debt as any complaint about her liability is be late, and the Ombudsman has previously considered a complaint about Miss X’s benefits. 8 In spring Miss X sent the bailiffs a ‘‘cease and desist’ notice saying as a single parent with a seven year old daughter she was a vulnerable person and the bailiffs should not be taking action to recover the debt. 9 The bailiffs wrote to Miss X asking for further information so they could assess her situation and decide how it affected her ability to pay. As Miss X did not send the information the bailiffs visited her twice later in the year. Miss X then complained to the Council about this. 10 In 2014 the Government issued National Guidance for Enforcement Agents. Paragraph 77 says - “Some groups who might be vulnerable are listed below. However, this list is not exhaustive. Care should be taken to assess each situation on a case by case basis.” 11 One of the groups listed who might be vulnerable are single parent families. 12 The Guidance is clear that if a debtor falls into the list the bailiffs must assess the individual case to see if they should take extra care in recovering the debt. Just because a debtor is a single parent does not, of itself, mean they are vulnerable. 13 The bailiff’s asked Miss X for more details of why she was vulnerable; she did not provide any information. So I cannot say the bailiffs were wrong to continue their recovery action. 14 I will not investigate Miss X’s complaint about the Council using bailiffs to recover a debt from a vulnerable person. Miss X did not send any other information to support her claim and the Council and bailiffs were not at fault to continue recovery action. http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/benefits-and-tax/other/16-010-888
  7. The Local Government Ombudsman's office has just released the following decision. Re: London Borough of Haringey. The complaint 1. The complainant, who I shall call Ms A, complains the Council allowed her to make payment towards an outstanding Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) although it had passed the matter to its enforcement agents (bailiffs), incurring additional costs. What I found 4 The Council issued Ms A a PCN for a parking contravention on 29 September 2015. Ms A did not pay or make formal representations against the PCN so the Council pursued the debt against her. It issued a warrant of execution and passed the debt to its bailiffs to enforce on 16 June 2016. 5. Ms A made a payment of £97 for the PCN using the Council’s online system on 23 June 2016. However by this point the Council had already passed the case to its bailiffs, incurring further costs. Ms A says she paid the fine so bailiff action should cease. However, the Council says she is still liable for the bailiff fees. Ms A says the Council should not have allowed her to make a payment online when the case was with its bailiffs. The Council confirmed it passed the debt onto the enforcement agency on 13 June because it had not received payment and sent a Notice of Enforcement on 16 June. 6. Ms A complained to the Council that she had not received the statutory notices the Council says it sent. The Council confirmed it sent the notices to the registered keepers address. These included the Notice to Owner, the Charge Certificate and the Order of Recovery. Each notice summarised the amount due at each stage. The Council said Royal Mail did not return the letters as undelivered so considered them served. The Council included copies of the notices it sent to Ms A in its response to her complaint. 7. A motorist may make part-payment towards a PCN debt and there was no reason for the Council to refuse Ms A’s payment made on 23 June 2016. Ms A sought to challenge the Council’s action but was unsuccessful, and the Council is therefore entitled to pursue the debt against her, including by passing the case to its bailiffs. Ms A made payment only after the case had been referred to bailiffs and the Ombudsman cannot therefore say she is not liable for the bailiff’s fees. The Council’s acceptance of Ms A’s payment has also not caused Ms A an injustice as it has been put towards the cost of the PCN and bailiff’s fees incurred to pursue it. http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/transport-and-highways/parking-and-other-penalties/16-008-073
  8. The following is another very recent decision from the Local Government Ombudsman on the subject of vulnerability. Once again, the LGO confirm that evidence needs to be provided if a person considers that they may be 'vulnerable'. Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council PS: The following is a short version of the decision. A link to read the full report is at the end of this post. The complaint Mr X complains that the Council has unreasonably taken Council tax enforcement action against him despite his vulnerability. What I found The law says people must pay their council tax before the installment date stated on the bill. If people pay late on more than two occasions they lose the right to pay by installments. The Council can then demand that they pay the full amount which is due for the rest of the year. If they do not pay the Council can serve a summons and ask the magistrates for a liability order. A liability order is an order confirming the person must pay the council tax and costs. Further costs are incurred when magistrates grant a liability order. If someone does not pay the council tax, and the costs, the Council can ask enforcement agents to collect the debt. Enforcement agents charge fees which must also be paid. Mr X has council tax arrears from 2013/14 and 2014/15. The Council has provided evidence of Mr X’s non payment of Council tax and the courts upheld the summonses when they issued the Liability Orders. Mr X did not make any arrangements to pay his council tax arrears. In November 2014 Mr X told the Council he was a vulnerable person. The Council asked him to provide evidence and held his account for a month to give him time to provide the evidence. Mr X did not provide evidence of his vulnerability and the Council sent his account to enforcement agents (bailiffs) for collection. Councils can use enforcement agents to enforce Council tax debts. Mr X says they should not be used as he is vulnerable person. The enforcement agents wrote to Mr X in November 2014 asking for medical evidence of his vulnerability signed by his GP or a medical professional. They did not receive any medical evidence from Mr X. In September 2015 Mr X sent the Council a copy of a letter from his local mental health team inviting him to an appointment as evidence of his vulnerable status. In October the enforcement agents wrote to Mr X detailing the amounts he had to pay to clear his council tax arrears. Mr X provided the council tax department with a copy of a letter to the Housing Office on 25 January 2016 about his mental health. The Council told the enforcement agents who arranged for its welfare team to deal with him as they are experienced in dealing with vulnerable people. The enforcement agents returned Mr X’s accounts to the Council as they could not contact him. The Council contacted Mr X numerous times about the arrears on this council tax accounts. The law allows councils to instruct enforcement agents once the court has issued a liability order. The law also says that the court costs and fees charged by the enforcement agents must be paid. Although Mr X says he is a vulnerable person, he did not provide evidence of this to the Council until January 2016. Without evidence to support Mr X’s contention that enforcement agents should not be used, there is no evidence of fault in the Council’s decision to utilise them. Final decision There is no evidence the Council has been unreasonable in its decision to take enforcement action against Mr X for council tax arrears. http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/benefits-and-tax/council-tax/16-001-201
  9. Unfortunately, many people consider that because, they have problems with mental health that a local authority should not pursue them for road traffic debts or refer cases to bailiffs. The following recent decision from the Local Government Ombudsman is therefore of importance: PS: The following is a short version of the LGO's decision. Please refer to the link at the end of the post to read more. London Borough of Hounslow. The complaint Mr A complains the Council harassed him and discriminated against him by using bailiffs to collect a debt relating to two unpaid Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) when it already had notice of his mental health problems. Mr A maintains the Council should have treated him as a vulnerable adult and told the bailiffs of his condition. He seeks a refund of the enforcement costs he has paid and compensation. What I found Council parking enforcement officers issued Mr A with two PCNs. As Mr A did not pay the charges the Council followed its usual enforcement procedures to obtain payment of the PCNs and the accrued costs. In February 2015, following the Council’s actions in sending out Charge Certificates to Mr A in relation to the PCNs, he wrote to the Council explaining he had mental health problems and enclosed a letter from his GP and the Jobcentre. The Council responded by advising Mr A that while his medical condition had been noted it was not accepted as mitigation to cancel the PCNs. An Order for Recovery was then issued in April for the two charges. As the debt remained unpaid, the Council passed Mr A’s case on to bailiffs acting on its behalf and they wrote to him at the beginning of June. As no response was received, an enforcement agent, Mr X, attended Mr A’s property. Having taken control of Mr A’s vehicle, Mr X spoke to Mr A who informed him of his mental health problems. Mr X told Mr A he had no knowledge of Mr A’s condition but declined Mr A’s request to call his office or the Council to confirm it. Instead, Mr X told Mr A he could seek legal advice. Mr A offered payment by card but made clear he believed he was doing so under duress. Mr X told Mr A it was his choice whether or not to make the payment and Mr A paid the outstanding debt in full. Mr A then made a complaint to the Council about its and the bailiffs’ lack of understanding of his illness and vulnerability and that he had been forced under duress from Mr X to make payment. Having contacted the bailiffs and sought their comments, the Council responded in August 2015 but did not uphold the complaint. It concluded Mr A’s case had been dealt with in an appropriate manner. The Council confirmed it had been aware of his mental health problems but, having considered matters, decided that his particular circumstances did not warrant the cancellation of the PCNs. Because it had decided to pursue the charges, and refer his case on to enforcement agents, it did not consider it necessary to make the agents aware of Mr A’s correspondence about his mental health problems. It did not uphold his complaint. Analysis When Mr A told the Council of his mental health problems, it considered what he had said, and the evidence he had provided, but decided his condition was not sufficient mitigation to stop collection of the charges. It informed him of its decision. The merits of this decision are not open to review by the Ombudsman no matter how strongly Mr A may disagree with it. I have viewed the recording of Mr X’s visit to Mr A’s property. In it Mr A tells Mr X his condition is such that the Council should be working with him to which Mr X replies he can make a payment arrangement with Mr A. He did not doubt Mr A when he was told of Mr A’s mental health problems and told him he could seek legal advice. I saw nothing in Mr X’s behaviour which amounted to harassment or discrimination and he reasonably took the card payment which was offered to him by Mr A. http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/transport-and-highways/parking-and-other-penalties/16-000-771
  10. A very popular enquiry that appears on the forum concerns bailiff enforcement for arrears of council tax in relation to a previous property and where notification of the arrears is only known when a bailiff visits the individuals new address. In the first instance, the vast majority of people pay their yearly council tax by direct debit. When a person moves from an address, there are usual steps that will be undertaken by the homeowner. Taking a reading of the gas or electricity meters is one such obvious step. Another obvious step should be to inform the local authority of the moving out date. The council will then adjust the yearly council tax bill. The council will request a new address so that a final bill can be sent. The individual should not cancel their previous direct debit without first contacting the council. If they do so, and there are council tax arrears, the council may issue a summons and the regulations (in this case, Regulation 35.2© of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992) are very clear, in that the summons is deemed served if sent by post to the individuals usual or last known place of abode. If a Liability Order is granted for the arrears, it can be passed to a firm of bailiffs to enforce. Before a personal visit is made, the enforcement company must send a Notice of Enforcement. Once again, the regulations (in this case, Regulations 8 of the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013) are very clear in that the Notice of Enforcement is deemed served if it is posted to the address where the individual usually lives. If the individual moves from his previous address and fails to contact the council to settle his council tax bill and provide a new address, then naturally the Notice of Enforcement will be sent to 'the last known place of abode' (i.e. the previous address). If a subsequent complaint is made to the Local Government Ombudsman, it will usually be the case that they will not will find fault with the local authority. The following are two recent decisions from the Ombudsman on this very subject:
  11. There has been much debate on the forum regarding the important subject of 'vulnerability' when a debt (usually council tax arrears) is being enforced by a bailiff. Many posters have different opinions as to whether or not, when vulnerability is identified, the account should be returned to the local authority and bailiff fees removed, or managed by the enforcement companies in house Welfare Dept etc etc. Whilst opinions will no doubt vary on this very important subject, it may be of interest to know what the Local Government Ombudsman's view is of this subject. If a debtor wishes to have a complaint considered by the Local Government Ombudsman, they must first take their complaint to the relevant local authority and exhaust the first stage and second stage complaints procedure. The complaint may then be considered by the LGO. All Local Government Ombudsman's decisions are reported on-line. These reports are made public 3 months after the final decision. The local authorities name is revealed but the complainants details are not.
  12. I mentioned yesterday on the forum that since the new regulations came into effect in April 2014, the Local Government Ombudsman has dealt with 304 enquiries relating to a council tax complaint that involved bailiff enforcement, and 418 enquiries relating to a penalty charge notice (including congestion charging) that involved bailiff enforcement. The following decision has just been released and again, another local authority has agreed to refund bailiff fees an Out of Time witness statement has been accepted at the Traffic Enforcement Centre. The following is an extract of the decision. Bury Metropolitan Borough Council Mrs X complains the Council failed to refund bailiff costs and the parking fine following the decision of the Traffic Enforcement Centre (TEC). Background: 4 The Council issued a penalty charge notice (PCN) to Mrs X. It says Mrs X did not either appeal the notice or pay the fine. The Council continued to take action to recover the outstanding amount which resulted in bailiffs visiting Mrs X’s property. 5 Mrs X says the first time she knew of the PCN was when the bailiffs visited. She says she panicked when the bailiffs attended and so paid the fine in full. Afterwards she decided to challenge the recovery as she had never received the PCN. Mrs X made a late appeal to the TEC. Her appeal was upheld. 6 The bailiff sent a cheque to Mrs X for £310 on 17 February 2016. This was the return of their fees following the decision of the TEC. The Council retained £82 which is the original penalty charge of £50, £25 for the non- payment before the Council sent a charge certificate and £7 for the debt registration. 7 The Council says it has retained this amount because it did not form part of the TEC decision. It says at no time has Mrs X challenged the PCN and so it is still valid. 8. In response to my enquiries the Council says it will reissue the Notice to Owner to Mrs X. This will give her the opportunity to challenge the original PCN. If it is found the PCN was not correctly issued the Council should make a further refund. Final Decision: My decision is the complaint will not be pursued further. The return of the bailiff fees has provided a remedy for most of Mrs X’s complaint. When we spoke on the telephone previously, she said this is what she was seeking. In addition the Council will now reissue the Notice to Owner which gives Mrs X the right to appeal the PCN if she considers it was wrongly issued. I consider this provides a suitable remedy for Mrs X’s complaint so I will not pursue it further. http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/transport-and-highways/parking-and-other-penalties/15-017-156
  13. All Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) decisions appear on the LGO website six months after the date of the decision. Personal information about the complainant is naturally removed but the name of the relevant local authority is made public. For this discussion thread I have only selected important decisions that concern council tax enforcement where a liability order had been obtained and passed to an enforcement company. Although the following decision relates to events prior to the new regulations taking effect (April 2014) it is nonetheless a very important one to refer to. The decision date was August 2014 and was published November 2014. The local authority is London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and the complaint made by the debtor was that: The debtor was vulnerable and the local authority should not have referred to account to bailiffs. That the council forwarded payments to the bailiff company. The council refused to recall debt from the bailiff company.
  14. Approx two years ago the Local Government Ombudsman changed the way in which they record decisions. Previously, when a final decision was made, copies would be sent to the relevant local authority and the complainant. The significance of the change was that all decisions are now made public on the LGO website three months after the decision. There have been quite a few recent decisions made to the Local Government Ombudsman concerning successful Out of Time witness statements to the Traffic Enforcement Centre and the position regarding 'bailiff fees'. Up until this decision, most local authorities when notified of a successful Out of Time witness statement will refund some or all of the amount of the PCN...and will then advise the individual that they must contact the bailiff company for a refund. Out of Time witness statements and the Traffic Enforcement Centre are subjects that I am passionate about and this is why I am DELIGHTED to read this very recent decision (made public on 23rd March 2016) from the LGO regarding London Borough of Haringey. The LGO advised LB of Haringey that they should refund Miss X the following amounts: Charge certificate surcharge of £65 TEC court fee of £7 Bailiff fees of £310. Analysis: Item 17: As detailed at Paragraph 15, the TEC’s decision to accept Miss X’s late witness statement ordered that recovery action be taken back to the original PCN. While the Council says it has discretion over whether to refund fees in this situation as the TEC’s decision makes no direction on this point, the TEC’s decision clearly directs the revocation of the order for recovery and the cancellation of the charge certificate. These documents form the basis of the Council’s action from December 2013, as well as the further fees added to Miss X’s debt. Item 18. The Ombudsman considers in this situation that as the TEC has withdrawn the basis for the fees, the Council cannot legitimately refuse to refund them. Had the TEC’s decision not intended to result in this action it would be meaningless as it would have no effect. I therefore consider that the Council’s refusal to refund the fees resulting from steps in the process which the TEC has ordered are cancelled, is fault. http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/transport-...ties/15-000-612
  15. Yesterday the Local Government Ombudsman issued a public report against London Borough of Redbridge in relation to a complaint. A link to the full report can be found at the bottom of this post. The basis of the complaint is that in May 2011 the complainant received a PCN after the Council’s CCTV saw her committing an offence. She moved home the day after the contravention. LB of Redbridge applied to DVLA a few days later and naturally DVLA provided her previous address. As a result, she did not receive any of the notices. A warrant of execution was authorised and passed to their bailiff provider; Newlyn Plc to enforce. Her car was located by way of the bailiffs ANPR equipped vehicle and clamped. To avoid the removal of her car she was forced to pay £741. The warrant issued to the bailiffs had the previous address for Miss X but, before the first visit Newlyn’s records showed that they carried out a DVLA search on the vehicle. This search would have revealed the new address for Miss X. It would seem that the bailiff knew that a new address had been provided by DVLA and in fact, the hand written receipt the bailiff gave to her had the first part of her previous address and this was crossed off by the bailiff and replaced with her current address. The Ombudsman refers in her report to Civil Procedure Rule 75.7(7) which outlines the procedure that must be followed if a bailiff identifies a new address....which is.... that if a local authority wishes to continue to enforce the warrant it must apply to the Traffic Enforcement Centre to have the warrant reissued to the new address. (Note:CPR 75.7(7) is very specific on this point in that a warrant may only be reissued in the very rare cases where the address changed after the date that the warrant had been issued). Miss X then filed an Out of Time witness statement which LB of Redbridge so fit to reject!! She applied to have the decision “reviewed” and had to pay a fee £80 to file an N244. The District Judge overruled the decision of LB of Redbridge and cancelled the warrant and revoked the Order for Recovery. LB of Redbridge repaid £172 to Miss X which represented the amount of the PCN.Miss X approached Redbridge to refund the bailiffs fees. They refused and stated that they had no legal duty to do so and they quoted legislation that had been repealed under Schedule 12 of the TMA 2004 (full details are in paragraphs 21-23 of the report). The Ombudsman stated that: · “Once discovering that the address on the warrant was different to the complainant’s current one, the bailiffs should have released the vehicle without charge and returned the warrant to the council for further action” In addition,the Ombudsman decided that the council was dismissive of the complaint and they initially insisted the complainant was at fault for not notifying the DVLA of her new address when they had in fact done so, and it quoted outdated legislation as justification for refusing to refund the bailiffcharges. The Ombudsman also refers in her report to sections 10.68 and 10.69 of the Department for Transport’s Operational Guidance to Local Authorities under theTraffic Management Act 2004. On the procedure that should be followed if the address on the warrant is different from the defaulters current address the Ombudsman stated that the bailiff should: · “Stop action, unclamp the car, not charge any costs and return the warrant to the Council” and that: · “Failure to do so in this complaint was “administrative fault” which “led to injustice” When the complaint was being investigated by the Ombudsman, LB of Redbridge responded to the enquiries to effectively lay blame on Miss X and stated that: · “It is the responsibility of the motorist to ensure that address details held by the DVLA are correct at all times.” And that: · “In this instance the fees were incurred as a result of what can best be described as an oversight by Ms Young in failing to advise the DVLA of her change of address.” LB of Redbridge failed to provide any evidence to support this “oversight” but shockingly, even after the Ombudsman suggested that Redbridge should settle the complaint, they continued to blame Miss X by suggesting that she was to blame as she should have arranged for her post to be redirected !! From the evidence provided to the Ombudsman it was clear that Miss X had indeed advised DVLA of her change of address almost immediately. Astonishingly, Redbridge also stated to the Ombudsman the following: · “Whilst we appreciate that [the bailiffs] acted as our agents in this matter we cannot be held responsible for their oversight in failing to advise us of the change of address when they became aware of it.” The Ombudsman disagreed and stated in her report: "When Ms Young complained to the Council about what had happened it should have recognised the fault, apologised, instructed the bailiffs to refund the fees and costs, and ensured that they acted correctly in future. The Ombudsman’s conclusion was Maladministration and Injustice. http://www.lgo.org.uk/news/2013/mar/redbridge-council-asked-review-bailiff-procedures/ . .
  16. . . . Yesterday the Local Government Ombudsman issued a public report against London Borough of Redbridge in relation to a complaint. A link to the full report can be found at the bottom of this post. The basis of the complaint is that in May 2011 the complainant received a pcn after the Council’s CCTV saw her committing an offence. She moved home the day after the contravention. LB of Redbridge applied to DVLA a few days later and naturally DVLA provided her previous address. As a result, she did not receive any of the notices. A warrant of execution was authorised and passed to their bailiff provider; Newlyn Plc to enforce. Her car was located by way of the bailiffs ANPR equipped vehicle and clamped. To avoid the removal of her car she was forced to pay £741. The warrant issued to the bailiffs had the previous address for Miss X but, before the first visit Newlyn’s records showed that they carried out a DVLA search on the vehicle. This search would have revealed the new address for Miss X. It would seem that the bailiff knew that a new address had been provided by DVLA and in fact, the hand written receipt the bailiff gave to her had the first part of her previous address and this was crossed off by the bailiff and replaced with her current address. The Ombudsman refers in her report to Civil Procedure Rule 75.7(7) which outlines the procedure that must be followed if a bailiff identifies a new address....which is.... that if a local authority wishes to continue to enforce the warrant it must apply to the Traffic Enforcement Centre to have the warrant reissued to the new address. (Note:CPR 75.7(7) is very specific on this point in that a warrant may only be reissued in the very rare cases where the address changed after the date that the warrant had been issued). Miss X then filed an Out of Time witness statement which LB of Redbridge so fit to reject!! She applied to have the decision “reviewed” and had to pay a fee £80 to file an N244. The District Judge overruled the decision of LB of Redbridge and cancelled the warrant and revoked the Order for Recovery. LB of Redbridge repaid £172 to Miss X which represented the amount of the PCN.Miss X approached Redbridge to refund the bailiffs fees. They refused and stated that they had no legal duty to do so and they quoted legislation that had been repealed under Schedule 12 of the TMA 2004 (full details are in paragraphs 21-23 of the report). The Ombudsman stated that: · “Once discovering that the address on the warrant was different to the complainant’s current one, the bailiffs should have released the vehicle without charge and returned the warrant to the council for further action” In addition,the Ombudsman decided that the council was dismissive of the complaint and they initially insisted the complainant was at fault for not notifying the DVLA of her new address when they had in fact done so, and it quoted outdated legislation as justification for refusing to refund the bailiffcharges. The Ombudsman also refers in her report to sections 10.68 and 10.69 of the Department for Transport’s Operational Guidance to Local Authorities under theTraffic Management Act 2004. On the procedure that should be followed if the address on the warrant is different from the defaulters current address the Ombudsman stated that the bailiff should: · “Stop action, unclamp the car, not charge any costs and return the warrant to the Council” and that: · “Failure to do so in this complaint was “administrative fault” which “led to injustice” When the complaint was being investigated by the Ombudsman, LB of Redbridge responded to the enquiries to effectively lay blame on Miss X and stated that: · “It is the responsibility of the motorist to ensure that address details held by the DVLA are correct at all times.” And that: · “In this instance the fees were incurred as a result of what can best be described as an oversight by Ms Young in failing to advise the DVLA of her change of address.” LB of Redbridge failed to provide any evidence to support this “oversight” but shockingly, even after the Ombudsman suggested that Redbridge should settle the complaint, they continued to blame Miss X by suggesting that she was to blame as she should have arranged for her post to be redirected !! From the evidence provided to the Ombudsman it was clear that Miss X had indeed advised DVLA of her change of address almost immediately. Astonishingly, Redbridge also stated to the Ombudsman the following: · “Whilst we appreciate that [the bailiffs] acted as our agents in this matter we cannot be held responsible for their oversight in failing to advise us of the change of address when they became aware of it.” The Ombudsman disagreed and stated in her report: "When Ms Young complained to the Council about what had happened it should have recognised the fault, apologised, instructed the bailiffs to refund the fees and costs, and ensured that they acted correctly in future. The Ombudsman’s conclusion was Maladministration and Injustice. http://www.lgo.org.uk/news/2013/mar/redbridge-council-asked-review-bailiff-procedures/
  17. Today, the Local Government Ombudsman released a very important FOCUS REPORT which outlines their concern at the increase in complaints concerning bailiffs. The FOCUS REPORT is very detailed and many people on the forums will be able to identify the type of complaints that they have with bailiffs with the examples that are outlined in the report. The report makes it very clear indeed that local authorities need to ensure that they take responsibility for their bailiffs’ actions and that any complaints are handled appropriately, including considering complaints themselves when necessary and not simply referring the complainants back to the bailiffs. The link below will take you to the LGO page which outlines in brief the basis of the FOCUS REPORT and the link on the top right hand side of the page will open the full report. http://www.lgo.org.uk/news/2012/nov/lgo-highlights-problems-bailiff-action-behalf-councils
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