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Council Tax Committal Summons - going out of my mind, need any advice anyone can offer


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Hi everyone,

 

I hope I have posted this in the right place, apologies if not.

 

I am at my wits' end here and going out of my mind with worry and just need some advice, I thought some people here might be able to advise or that someone may know a lot about this kind of thing.

 

I'll try to outline the situation briefly so as not to bore you!

 

Basically, I have had a court summons (committal) for council tax arrears.

 

My partner and I were living together and sharing the rent, bills, food etc etc, but when I became pregnant he didn't want to know and 9 months after the baby was born he walked out and left me to bring up the child and to struggle with paying the whole rent and all the bills and food and baby things on my own.

 

I carried on working and my parents had to look after my baby, but even working didn't cover everything, I was only in sales so I was bringing home £800 a month, and once rent had gone from that I was left with about £50 a week to pay for everything else - food, bills, baby etc etc.

 

It ended up that I had to quit work because I was so depressed and stressed, I had a kind-of breakdown I think, I saw my GP for depression and had to claim sickness benefit (ESA they call it now) for a while.

 

That was only £270 a month so I still had no money left for anything other than food, baby and electricity. (the flat where we lived had a prepay electric meter so it wasn't even as though I could pay the bill and then have constant electric, if I didn't put money on the key regularly we had no power)

 

After I stopped claiming ESA my mum helped me out with money for about 5 months (only tiny amounts, like £20 here and there) and then I started claiming Income Support, which I am getting now.

 

I know it sounds pathetic but I just haven't been able to cope mentally. I had a very traumatic pregnancy (due to being told daily that I had ruined his life) so that made me depressed, and then after the birth I have had nothing but fianacial and emotional worries from day one. I have been suicidal at some points.

 

I have not been able, at any stage, to afford to pay my council tax and so I have become in arrears. I received some letters but I just couldn't cope. I was terrified and upset, and now it has got to the committal stage.

 

My little boy is slightly autistic and therefore very demanding and he takes up all my time and I just haven't had the time or energy to sort out other things. I am very stressed and unhappy, not only because of my finances but the breakdown of my relationship, and everything has just got out of hand and on top of me.

 

I have to go to court for this in two weeks' time and I am absolutely terrified. I am not unwilling to pay, I have just never had the means. I have done all the maths and have worked out everything that I have had coming in, while I was working and after I quit, and at no stage have I had more than £70 a week to live on and pay all the bills and buy food for us, surely the magistrate will see that I have struggled?

I can get bank statements printed from my bank to show the amounts of ESA, IS and wages that have been paid in, as well as the small amounts from parents.

 

I know that they look for 'wilful refusal' or 'culpable neglect' (which I understand means you have the money but spend it on luxuries you don't need instead of bills) but I don't feel that I fit into either of those, I have never refused and certainly have not 'neglected' payments while I jet off on foreign holidays (haven't been on holiday since I was a child!!) or buy a big new TV (I don't even have a TV!!).

 

I am just so scared that I will end up in prison. I have read so many scary things online, some people say no way will people go to prison, others say yes you will, I am going crazy here on my own and am so so scared, I can't eat or sleep, I just keep crying, does anyone have any advice that might put my mind at ease?

 

I am a respectable 30-year old lady who has tried and failed to manage all my bills and rent completely on my own and now am in trouble over it, my hands are shaking even as I type this.

 

Thanks guys xx

 

EDIT: forgot to say the amount owed is £2000 (including court costs), it built up between 2010 and 2012, partly when I was working, partly when I had quit, partner left late 2009 so was on my own from 2010 onwards

Edited by CathyC
forgot to include something
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im so sorry to hear what you are going though i know it can be a scary thing.

 

have you contacted them to try and arrange a repayment plan for the arrears? Use your financial statement to work out what you can afford. If you get Income Support, income-related Employment Support Allowance, Pension Credit or income-based Job Seekers’ Allowance, .

 

ask the council to request direct deductions from your benefit. The most that can be taken from these benefits for Council Tax arrears i think is currently still only £3.40 a week. If deductions cannot be made from any benefit, the council usually expect considerably more than this. But do not offer more than you can afford.

 

i cannot see a judge asking you to pay more then you can afford bring with you a financial statement and proof of you income and what your current out goings are. and also explain what you have been though and the reason why the situation became so bad you started to struggle and just be honest with them.

 

have you thought about issuing a CSA order against the baby father for child maintenance payments?

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It's a committal summons - which means that everything else has already been tried to get OP to pay her CT, and they are using the committal as a last resort - local authorities usually use this route when they believe the person failing to pay does in fact have the means to pay.

 

You are probably aware you have been incredibly foolish for ignoring this up to this incredibly serious point - but you still have an opportunity to put your case to the court. The magistrate will look in detail at your financial circumstances (so provide full proof and evidence of your income and outgoings at the relevant time), it is called a means enquiry. You will need to explain why you couldn't pay, or why you didn't claim any benefit entitlements and so forth, so it would be best to prepare a written statement covering everything so that you don't leave anything important out. If the magistrate decides that you could not in fact pay for valid reasons he/she has the power to write off the debt in its entirety. Don't forget, he/she also has the power to send you to prison, but the most usual order they make will be to postpone the warrant to send you to prison whilst giving you further time to pay the debt - usually in instalments, so make sure you show what you can afford. At this stage there is no point in saying you can't afford anything at all, so make a realistic offer.

 

If the warrant is postponed, you cannot miss another payment as you'll be arrested and taken to prison (but if you genuinely cannot pay then let the council know in advance).

 

I would strongly suggest that you see a solicitor - if you are on benefits you will probably be entitled to legal aid as your liberty is at stake.

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Have you never claimed Council Tax Benefit?

 

Yes I did, after I left work. The period i owe CT for is from Feb 2010 to March 2012, it was in March 2012 that I started to claim Council Tax Benefit, as I was claiming ESA for my depression by then, so my CT was paid for me from March onwards.

I couldn't claim it before, as I had been in full-time employment, and was required to pay full CT, which was why I got in arrears, I just couldn't make ends meet.

 

Sorry if I'm not making much sense, my head is all over the place.

 

Basically I worked until Nov 2011, then quit and survived on my end-of job wages for a couple of months til early 2012, then saw my GP and put in my claim for ESA, HB and CTB, which I received from March 2012.

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Yes I know I have been foolish and I am paying the price for it now. I know it sounds pathetic that I couldn't cope but I have been completely on my own and so stressed and unhappy. Anyway nevermind that. :-)

 

I have written everything down, I have separate pieces of paper with all the dates on, the dates that I was at work and what I earned, and breakdowns of what my wages were spent on ie rent, electric, water, food etc.

Then I have the dates after I quit, and the amounts of ESA I received and breakdowns of all that, and dates of IS received and how that is divided up for bills and food.

 

At no point have I had any money spare. I can get bank statements to show the amounts of ESA and wages etc, and the judge will be able to see that there was no other money going in, apart from, like I said, the odd £10 or £20 from parents. It's not like I had several thousand pounds in my account and have chosen to spend it on things that weren't necessary.

 

I am perfectly willing to pay and will tell the judge this, I am in fact going to make a payment of £30 today to my CT account to show goodwill. I can't really afford it but I want to show them that I am not unwilling.

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I should probably also add that I DID try to communicate with the bailiffs before this got to commital status, it was Equita and I wrote to them several times stating that I was happy to discuss it with them to try and sort it out.

 

Each time they wrote back and their reply was just that 'they had noted the contents of my letter and passed it to "Mr Blah Blah" contact number "*******" so that was no help at all, they said they had noted the contents but they hadn't offered to discuss it or been helpful in the least.

 

The contact numbers they gave were mobile numbers and there was no way I was going to ring mobile numbers from my mobile (don't have a landline) and cost myself a bomb, also I didn't want bailiffs having my personal mobile number.

 

So I wrote back and explained that I could not phone and could we discuss it via letter, and then received exactly the same letter again but with a different bailiff contact.

 

Wrote back yet again saying I felt that my requests were being ignored, and received yet the same letter but this time there was just a blank space where the name and number should be - it was an absolute joke!

 

I still have all these letters from Equita so shall be taking those with me too, to show that I was in contact with them and not totally ignoring everything til it got to committal.

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You know, the more I think about this bailiff letter business, it makes me think that it shouldn't have got to committal at all - I was making an offer to discuss things with the bailiffs, they chose not to write and accept my offer and discuss it, they just sent me pointless repetitive letters (even though in these letters they did say they had noted the contents of my letter, which proves I have written to them on several occasions) one of which didn't even have any contact details in it.

 

They have obviously returned it as unpaid/uncollected, whatever they call it, and the council has proceeded to committal, but surely if I had offered to discuss things they should have written back to me and accepted my offer and talked about it?

 

Just because I couldn't phone them doesn't mean that they should ignore it and class it as unpaid does it?

 

I've a good mind to go back to the council and challenge this, what do you think?

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What do I think? I think you're trying to make someone else responsible for your failure to pay.

 

Look, this isn't the end of the world, and it is unlikely the magistrate will send you to prison once he/she has conducted your means enquiry, so you're very likely to get another opportunity to pay it.

 

You are free, of course, to raise the issue about contacting the bailiffs to discuss payment, but frankly, the court will have heard it all before and because there is no substance to back up your stated willingness to pay prior to these proceedings, there is no concrete, sustained, evidence of this, the court just won't be interested - in fact, they will almost certainly view it as you trying to shift responsibility for your failure onto someone else. For example, had you contacted the bailiffs, or the council, and either one had refused to respond, but you had gone ahead and made even a minimal payment on a regular weekly or monthly basis and could evidence this in court, the magistrate would throw the case out as it would be clear a) you'd tried to contact them and come to an arrangement and b) had shown consistent willingness to reduce the debt.

 

You haven't done that - and paying £30 now is just a mere drop in the ocean and something many people do just before court proceedings.

 

I appreciate that you've had a difficult time and felt you couldn't afford to pay the money or deal with the issues as they unfolded, but you're having to deal with them now and there's no point in looking for someone else to blame. The point is that even if you couldn't phone them, you could have paid, so YES they can class it as unpaid because it IS unpaid. You have to face up to this, make a realistic budget and offer what you can afford - I am fairly certain that it will be accepted at court, so try not to worry too much about being sent down, it's less likely for you as you have a small child who needs you, (though that is never an absolute guarantee).

 

I am not saying any of this to be harsh - it is just the reality of the court system - every excuse you can think of has been used multiple times before and won't work in the situation you are in. Your best bet is honesty: i.e. you simply couldn't afford to pay it, couldn't cope and buried your head in the sand, and despite writing to discuss it with the bailiffs you realise your failure to pay what you planned to offer isn't good. Then state that you are prepared to make payments going forward and are committed to reducing the debt in a consistent manner.

 

As I said, I think you should have a solicitor, it is easy for people to talk themselves into prison when they go on the attack rather than putting up a good defence.

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Thanks for your advice.

 

I'm not disputing what you say and am grateful for your reply, I'm sorry but it does seem like the end of the world to me, I have nothing and nobody and am terrified about all this, I'm not trying to be melodramatic or gain sympathy from anyone, I am just being honest about how I am feeling, and although it might not seem like the end of the world to most people who have friends and family and some support, it has knocked me for six and feels like the worst thing ever.

 

I am certainly not trying to blame anyone else, there is no-one else to blame, I know that. I was just pointing out that I hadn't just not bothered to respond to anything at all, I did contact the bailiff on several occasions between Dec 2012 and April 2013 and received pointless responses to every letter.

 

I just feel that as I was offering to pay, they should have responded and worked out a payment plan. I couldn't just make a payment and clear it as I couldn't afford the whole lot, it needed a plan discussed and put into place.

I couldn't just go ahead and make a minimal payment, as I had no idea what they expected me to pay, what the minimum was etc etc, and I certainly wasn't going to send money anyway in the hope that it would be accepted, especially when you read so many cases of bailiffs rejecting payments, refusing to take installments, demanding the whole lot or nothing, etc etc. I have little enough money as it is without sending amounts off with no proper plan in place.

 

As I say I am not trying to shift the blame, I just wanted a proper plan agreed by both sides and confirmed in writing, not just to send money to them in the hope that it would be accepted.

 

There will obviously be a record of my correspondance with them. I am not trying to use this as an excuse and will not present it as such to either the council or magistrate, I am just making the point that they should have discussed it with me before sending it back to the council and claiming that I am obviously unwilling to pay - because I wasn't unwilling, I did offer as long as a plan could be put in place. It's not like I said 'I can't phone you so I'm not going to pay you', I said I couldn't phone but I did offer to discuss it in writing (which is better than a phonecall anyway in my opinion)

 

Anyway theres no point in keep repeating myself.

 

Thanks again for everyone's advice, it is all greatly appreciated and taken on board. :-)

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It not being the end of the world was meant to reassure you - lots of people do far worse, and this is recoverable in the sense that it is unlikely the magistrate will send you down for it. Of course it is difficult to cope with things by yourself - but you mentioned earlier you had parents who helped with your child, so clearly they are people you can trust and who should be able to offer you some emotional support. If not, then I strongly suggest you contact your GP to see what advice and support centres there are available in your area.

 

You could have made your payments directly to the council, not the bailiffs. Can I just point out that venting here about all these issues is fine, but don't do it in court. Just stick to the things I mentioned at the end of my last post and accept the responsibility for the situation. That is the best way forward in a court of law on a point of issue over money - particularly when your liberty is at stake.

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Thanks :-)

 

Sorry if it seemed like I was ungrateful for any advice or anything, I guess I am just reading into things the wrong way and not seeing things in a rational way, think I'm just overtired and strung-up. I am really grateful to you for offering advice.

 

Re the payments to the bailiffs, I contacted them to arrange payment because I thought that once it had gone to bailiffs they were the ones you had to pay, and I contacted them to try and agree on a plan so they didn't come to my house, which would have been scary for both me and my little boy. Anyway thats all by the by now.

 

No of course I won't vent in court hehe, I have prepared my statement and will be very calm and rational and honest, I will probably cry cos I am very emotional at the slightest mention of any of this, but I can't help crying. I shall tell them I am sorry and am willing to pay and will accept responsibility for everything, and hopefully the judge will understand and be able to see from my statement of incoming money etc that I'm not hoarding vast sums and spending on holidays and pricey goods. Its obvious that I have been in receipt of benefits and before that I was bringing home a tiny wage which had to cover everything and didn't.

 

Anyway sorry again if i seemed touchy, I'm just worn out.

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