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Reverend Paul Nicolson wins Judicial Review to challenge the fees councils charge when applying for a Liability Order.

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Just in case some cannot get to it here is a PDF of the case


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In December 2013 I started a new thread here on the forum concerning the case of the Reverend Paul Nicolson's battle with his local authority (London Borough of Haringay) to challenge a Liability Order that had been issued against him. A link to that thread is below and has attracted almost 50,000 viewers. The Reverend eventually took his complaint to a Judicial Review which was heard in the High Court last week and yesterday the court released their judgment.

 

Given that the other thread has run to over 18 pages it may be simpler to start this new thread to highlight the judgment and discuss its implications.

 

http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?413648-Reverend-Paul-Nicolson-has-local-authorities-really-worried-as-he-is-quot-willfully-refusing-quot-to-pay-his-council-tax-!-WON

 

The Reverend's background:

 

The Reverend is in his 80’s and 15 years ago (at the age of 65) he founded the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K), to support debtors impoverished by the benefits system in court. He left Z2K in 2013 to run Taxpayers Against Poverty

 

http://www.taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk/

 

Up to 2013 he had also been a member of the Enforcement Law Reform Group (a lobby group seeking to reform the bailiff industry). I have met him on many occasions over the past 8 years and he is passionate about the plight of impoverished debtors on benefits and has spent many years assisting them.

 

PS: The popular TV series; The Vicar of Dibley was based upon the Reverend.

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Background to his complaint

 

In 2013 the Reverend refused to pay his own council tax in order to highlight the plight of benefit claimants affected by the 'benefit cap' and the abolishion of Council Tax benefit that he believed was destroying his community.

 

Given his refusal to pay, his local authority (Haringey) obtained a Liability Order order against him for over £1,000 to include “costs” of £125. He appeared in court and advised the Magistrate that was "willfully refusing" to pay his council tax and that if necessary; he would go to prison.

 

Crucially, he was also asking for an enquiry to be raised on the matter of the ‘summons cost” that is charged to all debtors when a local authority obtain a Liability Order. In his case Haringey Council charged £125 as ”summons costs”.

 

The amounts vary widely from one local authority to another and are in the range of approx £50 to as much as £150 and even more for cases of Non Domestic Rates.

 

Whilst the legislation does allow for the councils 'reasonable costs' to be added to the amount of the Liability Order the problem that has happened over the years is that court clerks have simply 'nodded through' requests from the local authorities for increases in the 'costs' on a yearly (or two yearly) basis without any evidence in support to justify the 'costs'.

 

During his court hearing in August 2013 Reverend Nicolson was advised that the figure of £125 was broken down into costs for the court time and costs 'reasonably incurred' by the council in bringing the case and that the amount was “consistent with other London boroughs". He argued that this was not the case given and that Camden Council charged £80 and London Borough of Bromley charge £95.

 

He was asked by the magistrate whether he could pay. He replied to inform the court that he could afford to pay the debt to the council but questioned why he should pay the costs of £125.

 

His argument failed to sway the bench. After a brief recess, the Magistrate told him:

 

“We note that you have made a general representation regarding matters of the [£125 cost].
We can only make a decision on the issue of costs that relate to you.
Having taken this into consideration we find that you are liable for the costs of £125.”

 

The Reverend advised the Magistrate that he would appeal and if necessary, he would consider a Judicial Review of the system.

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There will be a lot of chuntering and chatter in council legal departments today, looking for ways to justify and itemise their costs, and the reasons why they want to raise the cost to £200, in order to increase the potential for costs as a (potentially unlawful) revenue stream. Councils never learn, until kicked in the goolies.

 

Hopefully this will result into a proper investigation into the costs regime, in particular what is reasonable in all the circumstances. Well done Reverend is what I say to expose the back scratching cronyism involved.


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While it is a judgement which should lead to Councils and Magistrates being more careful in looking at the fees being charged for obtaining liability orders, it does not resolve the general issue. I cannot see the government legislating for the max fee that can be charged, unless there is now a campaign for this. That is the next stage.

 

Hope that someone is sending a copy of the judgement to the relevant government ministers, once the new ministers are in place. Both Labour and Tories are looking to reduce the grant they provide to councils between now and 2020. This will mean even more pressure on councils to raise revenues.


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There will be a lot of chuntering and chatter in council legal departments today, looking for ways to justify and itemise their costs, and the reasons why they want to raise the cost to £200, in order to increase the potential for costs as a (potentially unlawful) revenue stream. Councils never learn, until kicked in the goolies.

 

Hopefully this will result into a proper investigation into the costs regime, in particular what is reasonable in all the circumstances. Well done Reverend is what I say to expose the back scratching cronyism involved.

 

+1

 

Well done indeed to the Reverend!

 

£200 costs?? That's totally OTT as those who struggle to pay their CT as it is, will hardly be able to afford these kind of costs on top.

 

Let alone When the EA add their fees as well.

 

Extortionate ripoff!!!


I don't suffer from insanity, I enjoy every single minute of it!!

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While it is a judgement which should lead to Councils and Magistrates being more careful in looking at the fees being charged for obtaining liability orders, it does not resolve the general issue. I cannot see the government legislating for the max fee that can be charged, unless there is now a campaign for this. That is the next stage.

 

Hope that someone is sending a copy of the judgement to the relevant government ministers, once the new ministers are in place. Both Labour and Tories are looking to reduce the grant they provide to councils between now and 2020. This will mean even more pressure on councils to raise revenues.

 

Way back in 2007 I wrote to around 100 local authorities to ask how many liability orders had been issued the previous year and the applicable 'summons cost' applied. From those figures it was relatively simple to estimate that these 'costs' account for almost half a billion pounds of revenue to local authorities and whether we like it or not, the fact remains that local authorities rely upon this source of income and they will very quickly be looking at ways to replace this revenue and my gut feeling is that many LA will now be considering whether to introduce their own 'in house' bailiff operations. In that way they will be able to recover the £75 'Compliance Fee' .

 

PS: Local authorities and Magistrate Courts are fully aware of this judgment and my personal view is that any new government will quickly bring new legislation into place similar to that already in place in Wales capping the 'costs' at £70.

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While it is a judgement which should lead to Councils and Magistrates being more careful in looking at the fees being charged for obtaining liability orders,

 

Up until 3 years ago the Magistrate Court charged the LA a sum of 70p to cover the court costs for granting the application. This was increased to £3. I do not anticipate this charge being challenged.

 

The position now according to the judgment is that it is for the external auditors; Grant Thornton to examine the books and records at London Borough of Haringay to establish a figure that should be charged by that authority.

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Congratulations to the Reverend-he has worked hard to achieve his aim. And that hard work will be a huge benefit to many impoverished ratepayers who have been

badly let down by both the Councils and the Courts. BA I hope you will pass on our thanks to him from the Forum.

 

On a separate note, I am unable to access the relevant case on Bailli via the URL you kindly provided. Are they updating it or is it just getting too many views?

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Congratulations to the Reverend-he has worked hard to achieve his aim. And that hard work will be a huge benefit to many impoverished ratepayers who have been badly let down by both the Councils and the Courts. BA I hope you will pass on our thanks to him from the Forum.

 

On a separate note, I am unable to access the relevant case on Bailli via the URL you kindly provided. Are they updating it or is it just getting too many views?

 

I have just come off the phone to the Reverend and I will post further information later today.

 

He is very thankful to the forum for the exposure that had been given to his case and he wishes to thank everyone who has expressed an interest in this subject.

 

The bailii link has broken a number of times since yesterday but hopefully the following works :

 

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2015/1252.html&query=Reverend+and+Paul+and+Nicolson&method=boolean

Edited by citizenB

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Sorry CitizenB but that link is not working for me. However on the other thread relating to the Reverend ending with "Won" Mikey Mack was good enough to

post a pdf version of Mrs Justice Andrews DBE ruling of the case which is very interesting. Unfortunately that thread now appears to be closed so I would like to

thank Mikeymack for providing the case.

http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?413648-Reverend-Paul-Nicolson-has-local-authorities-really-worried-as-he-is-quot-willfully-refusing-quot-to-pay-his-council-tax-!-WON/page15

 

Post 281

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Following on from the Judgement by Mrs Justice Andrews DBE, no doubt there will be a fair amount of soul searching both among those Councils and Magistrate

Courts where the Liability costs are above the norm.

 

I thought the way in which the Judge explained her reasoning for her decision was very well executed and didn't appear to miss much. She made the observation that

the bulk applications should mean a lowering of costs rather than a rise. She also remarked that as the system is devoid of independent assessment to ascertain how

the costs are calculated "the scope for abuse is self evident". Of course if the Magistrates Court did their work properly it might have prevented some of the

worst excesses in Liability costs. The Judge did allude to the Tottenham Magistrates erring in Law by not scrutinising the Council's claim for their Liability Orders

and ther are I am sure othe Magistrate Court equally as culpable.

Typical though of Haringay Council that they still expect the Tottenham Court to pay the The Reverend's costs because they were the defendants!

 

No doubt it will take some time for the auditors to come to a figure which might more accurately reflect the cost of issuing an L/O.

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[ATTACH=CONFIG]57446[/ATTACH]I do not know what is happening with the Bailii links as all of them have broken. A PDF copy is attached (thanks to Mikeymack).

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Does this case open the door for someone to challenge their local authority? If so, if the charges were found to be too high, could they apply for a refund?

 

Are we looking at another ppi scenario here?

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Very frustating as all links keep breaking. Hopefully this one will work for a while:

 

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2015/1252.html&query=Reverend+and+Paul+and+Nicolson&method=boolean

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Does this case open the door for someone to challenge their local authority? If so, if the charges were found to be too high, could they apply for a refund?

 

Are we looking at another ppi scenario here?

 

It is my understanding this is judgment is specific to London Borough of Haringay and in particular, to the Reverend. That is not to say that residents from other local authorities cannot question their individual councils as to the costs charged by them when granting a Liability Order.

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Sorry CitizenB but that link is not working for me. However on the other thread relating to the Reverend ending with "Won" Mikey Mack was good enough to

post a pdf version of Mrs Justice Andrews DBE ruling of the case which is very interesting. Unfortunately that thread now appears to be closed so I would like to

thank Mikeymack for providing the case.

http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?413648-Reverend-Paul-Nicolson-has-local-authorities-really-worried-as-he-is-quot-willfully-refusing-quot-to-pay-his-council-tax-!-WON/page15

 

Post 281

 

 

I've copied that post and it now appears as Post 1 on this thread.


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It is my understanding this is judgment is specific to London Borough of Haringay and in particular, to the Reverend. That is not to say that residents from other local authorities cannot question their individual councils as to the costs charged by them when granting a Liability Order.

 

They would, of course, expose themselves to enormous legal costs should they fail to achieve a similar outcome to that of the good Reverend. While I would like to think people would challenge costs charged, in reality people should only do so in full knowledge they may be exposing themselves to these costs.

Edited by Coughdrop
To avoid any potential misunderstandings

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They would, of course, expose themselves to enormous legal costs should they fail to achieve a similar to that of the good Reverend. While I would like to think people would challenge costs charged, in reality people should only do so in full knowledge they may be exposing themselves to these costs.

 

I have just answered a query on another forum from somebody who asked whether this judgment enabled them to request a refund of the costs charged to her for three liability orders that have since been paid. It is my understanding that residents would not be able to make claims for past cases given that once a period of 21 days has passed from the granting of the Liability Order the LA are not permitted to make an application to court to overturn the Liability Order.

 

Once a Liability Order is issued the law permits the local authority (not the debtor) a strict time frame of 21 days to make an application to court to overturn the Liability Order. Once that period has passed the liability order cannot be challenged.

 

It is hoped that this judgment will sway the government into introducing legislation to 'cap' the summons figure in the same way that has happened in Wales. Their 'cap' is £70 but I would expect that if this was introduced in the UK that a slightly higher figure would be allowed for London Boroughs.

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Does this case open the door for someone to challenge their local authority? If so, if the charges were found to be too high, could they apply for a refund?

 

That's a bit premature yet Coughdrop. The Reverend won the case because neither the Court nor the Council were able to provide him with a breakdown of the

L/O cost at all rather than the £125 . Auditors will be going in apparently to work out the actual costs involved and it may be if those auditors wish to retain that Council

as a future customer that they may have to arrive at a figure not unadjacent to the £125. I hope I am being unduly pessimistic on this but certainly no claim

against Haringay could be countenanced until they have an acceptable figure-acceptable to the Council and the Magistrates Court in Tottenham who this time

might challenge the figure proposed should it not be in line with other Councils in the area. They [Tottenham Mags] should be as embarrassed as Haringay Council

over this case.

 

We can only hope that other Councils [Harrow for example] see the light and forget about using a higher charge than necessary as a means to getting ratepayers

to pay up quicker. One would have thought that with bailiffs able to charge £75 just to send a letter that that would concentrate minds to pay up if they did

have funds available.

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I have just answered a query on another forum from somebody who asked whether this judgment enabled them to request a refund of the costs charged to her for three liability orders that have since been paid. It is my understanding that residents would not be able to make claims for past cases given that once a period of 21 days has passed from the granting of the Liability Order the LA are not permitted to make an application to court to overturn the Liability Order.

 

Once a Liability Order is issued the law permits the local authority (not the debtor) a strict time frame of 21 days to make an application to court to overturn the Liability Order. Once that period has passed the liability order cannot be challenged.

 

It is hoped that this judgment will sway the government into introducing legislation to 'cap' the summons figure in the same way that has happened in Wales. Their 'cap' is £70 but I would expect that if this was introduced in the UK that a slightly higher figure would be allowed for London Boroughs.

 

Perhaps the ratepayers involved could attempt to take the Councils to task using the Unfair Terms route....................

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....It is hoped that this judgment will sway the government into introducing legislation to 'cap' the summons figure in the same way that has happened in Wales. Their 'cap' is £70 but I would expect that if this was introduced in the UK that a slightly higher figure would be allowed for London Boroughs.

 

I would think there would be very good grounds for challenging the Welsh government as to the legality of legislating for a cap on costs (also England if it were to follow suit); especially when you consider they are described as "costs reasonably incurred" (contradiction in terms).

 

Introducing a cap in such circumstances only confirms that the MoJ must consider this a penalty dressed up as costs, albeit one it has regulated.

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