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What happened in the Reverend Nicholson's meeting with Harringey's auditors?


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He was supposed to have met a couple of weeks ago with the auditors with a view to working out if the £125 level of court costs could be justified in terms of Council Tax (administration and Enforcement) Regulation 34(5) & (7). He has been posting other material on his Taxpayers Against Poverty website so presumably they have not incarcerated him but have they got to him to keep him quiet on this matter?

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....He has been posting other material on his Taxpayers Against Poverty website so presumably they have not incarcerated him but have they got to him to keep him quiet on this matter?

 

Apparently, when there's a declaration from the 'Independent Auditor' the appropriate people will be available to scrutinise the outcome.

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I wonder if that will be confidential minutes so unable to be the result of an FOI request. It's a bit incestuous isn't it?

 

Peronsally, I still think the magistrates who rubber stamped this in the first place should be kicked out, even if as scape goats which I'm normally dead against. People should do their jobs properly and to the best of their ability - it's not hard!

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  • 1 month later...

 

Are the £125 costs for a summons and a liability charged by Haringey and allowed by Tottenham Magistrates also unlawful?”.

 

Grant Thornton, Haringey’s external auditors, are currently auditing Haringey’s £125 costs for a summons and a liability order to ensure that it complies with the law that it only covers costs incurred by the council in obtaining a liability order and is neither an extra tax or a penalty. I am hoping for their report later this month or early September. Here is the story so far.......

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  • 2 months later...

 

I look forward to reading Grant Thornton's report and it is interesting to see that the council have opted to charge a very recent taxpayer an odd figure of £102 (not the usual £100, £110 or £125). Are we to assume from this that maybe Grant Thornton have agreed this figure 'behind closed doors'?

 

What is the justification for the fee of £13? The court service charge each local authority a fee of £3 to cover their (the courts) costs of granting each Liability Order?

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Auditor rejects Haringey’s CT costs refuses report in the public interest council breaks CT law 4 times with impunity

 

Auditor, not to make an application to the court for a declaration that an item of account is contrary to law.

 

Grant Thornton, Haringey's external auditor has bottled out. Presumably it doesn't want to put its contract in jeopardy and risk becoming an ex-external auditor to the council. I guess the firm would be committing perjury or something like that if it endorsed the council's costs in a public interest report and is why it refuses to do so.

 

The appointment of private firms as auditors to local authorities is obviously not in the public interest.

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Before going to town on Grant Thornton's document there's this, which stood out like a sore thumb (page 6):

 

In our opinion the Council has adopted an approach which is aimed at excluding costs not associated with a summons and whilst the basis would ideally be less subjective there is no evidence to suggest that the Council is deliberately apportioning inappropriate costs to increase the fee charged on summonses as a means to increase the income they receive from charging these costs. We are satisfied that the Council has not set out with any intention to raise income to cover other General Fund expenditure.

 

The auditor obviously did not know about this:

 

Haringey Council's 2004 Audit and Finance Scrutiny Panel Review of Income Collection (removed from website), details at paragraph 6.11 the relevant matter, as follows:

 

6.11. Court Costs

 

6.11.1. The Review Panel found that other councils had obtained agreement to raise Court Costs recharged to non-payers by a significant level. This charge is intended to act as a deterrent to both late and non-payers and enables councils to fund improved recovery measures. The Review Panel concluded that the Benefits and Local Taxation Service could improve performance by ensuring that it agrees the highest possible level of Court Costs to be charged to non-payers

 

 

Paragraph 5.10 (second to last bullet point) in Haringey’s Budget Monitoring report 2014/15 dated 16 September 2014 documents that court costs income props up other council expenditure (customer services) by offsetting an otherwise greater overspend:

 

£400k overspend in customer services predominately due to slippage in delivery of the 2014/15 savings (£660k) partially offset by forecast over achievement of court costs income.

 

 

Item 2 (page 15) of Haringey’s Financial Outturn 2011/12 details that an overachievement of court costs income lessened the impact of over spends on salaries and postage costs:

 

Revs, Bens & customer services Management Costs - the underlying cause of this over spend is the higher than planned demand for services particularly around benefits. This has led to notable over spends on salaries and postage costs. These pressures have mitigated down by an overachievement of income from reimbursement of court costs incurred during recovery activity.

 

 

Page 5 of Haringey’s explanation of variances from budget (Outturn 2013/14) documented that it had over achieved with court cost income therefore part of an under spend of £446k which contributed to an under spend of £1.32 million Revenues, Benefits & customer services budget. Incidentally, the council saved, rather than used funding given it by the government to pay council tax benefit claimants:

 

Revenues, Benefits & customer services - Management - the funding and responsibility for local welfare provision (Support Fund) transferred to local authorities from April 2013. Haringey along with many other authorities has significantly underspent this grant (£877k) and proposes to transfer it to a reserve for drawdown in the future. This is particularly important as the government has confirmed that funding will cease from 2015/16. The remaining under spend (£446k) is due to over achievement of court cost income and receipt of one-off grant funding largely in support of the changes to welfare and universal credit.
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Looking again at the letter, it appears that the auditor has been selective about which laws and guidance it deems should be taken into account in the matter, which on the whole concludes that Haringey's approach to its breakdown is reasonable.

 

You couldn't think of a better example of someone knowing which side their bread was buttered.

 

Quote from the auditor's letter:

 

Mrs Justice Andrews reasoning in paragraph 45 of her judgement is that it would not be practical for the Council to carry out and provide a detailed calculation of the actual costs incurred in each and every case. Therefore, the exercise has been completed by costing of a standard average case.

 

 

One thing that the auditor has conveniently neglected in the letter from which the above is quoted is that the Regulations in fact provide for individual costs and is why the government provided guidance in June 2013 (reiterated from a Council Tax Practice Note in September 1993) stating that 'while it is likely that authorities will have discussed costs with the Clerk to Justices it should be recognised that the Court may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority’. The court would not require satisfying on an individual basis for any arbitrary reason, but because an individual sought to challenge the costs, which is why regulation 35(1) of the Regulations provides that a single liability order may deal with one person and one amount. Regulation 35, so far as is relevant, is as follows:

 

Liability orders: further provision

 

35.—(1) A single liability order may deal with one person and one such amount (or aggregate amount) as is mentioned in regulation 34(7) and (8), or, if the court thinks fit, may deal with more than one person and more than one such amount.

 

 

Nicolson v Tottenham Magistrates agrees (para 46) in so much as it considers in principle, provided that due consideration is given to the dangers of artificially inflating costs, it may be a legitimate approach to provide an average figure which could be levied across the board in "standard" cases. It does however go further and add that such costs ‘could be amplified in circumstances where there was justification for incurring additional legal and/or administrative costs’.

 

This approach would require the average figure being derived from the aggregate recoverable costs, which (i) excluded any expenditure that was not common to every application, and (ii) be properly referable to the summons/liability order. That is to say in broad terms the exclusion of those elements which are referred to here (paras 64-101). It would then be open to the council in cases where it incurred additional administrative costs (where they were lawful and there was justification to do so) to amplify the standard costs, but again subject to them always being properly referable to the enforcement process.

 

In other words, if the council wishes to lessen the administrative burden of calculating the costs in each case (and comply with the Regulations), it must base its costing NOT on a standard average case, but in respect of a taxpayer who simply receives a summons and settles outstanding liability before the date of the hearing without contacting the council to query the demand.

 

If the Regulations were applied appropriately, the consequences would be that the majority of Staff costs (£914,400), Overheads (£1,165,200) and all of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (£774,000) are not permissible in respect of re-charging expenditure for instituting the complaint.

 

What is set-out above should have been enough to alert the auditor that Haringey's claims were not reasonable in the context of the relevant law which governs costs and should therefore have used its discretion to apply to the Court for a declaration that an item of account is contrary to law under section 17(1) of the 1998 Act, and issued a report in the public interest.

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....What, then, should the Rev be doing after this? There must be a way of getting this published given every bit of law appears to be on his side.

 

The authorities are using the justice system, which is anything but, to allow councils to carry on their questionable activities.

 

The options available, on the face of it, are limited to yet another appeal which must be commenced in the High Court.

 

The Reverend has already had to jump through hoops – having the Magistrates court initially refusing to produce the document in an appeal by way of a ‘case stated’ in the High Court and so had to make a Judicial review claim for a mandatory order.

 

This is what the Reverend is being threatened with now:

 

Rights of appeal

You have a statutory right of appeal to the court against our decision not to make an application to the court for a declaration that an item of account is contrary to law - see Section 17(4) of the Audit Commission Act 1998. Any appeal must be commenced in the High Court. An appeal must be made by filing an appellant’s notice in the prescribed form (Form N161) at the Administrative Court Office, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, WC2A 2LL, within 28 days, calculated from the date on which you receive this letter. The procedures relating to statutory appeals are set out in the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (as amended) and supplemental Practice Directions.

 

We suggest that anyone considering an appeal should take their own legal advice.

 

I have sent a copy of this letter to the Council.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Paul Dossett

Partner

 

This is casino justice and is used by the IPCC, LGO and any other public body that operates under a statutory complaint's system.

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They really want this one dead & buried.

We could do with some help from you.

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Looking again at the letter, it appears that the auditor has been selective about which laws and guidance it deems should be taken into account in the matter, which on the whole concludes that Haringey's approach to its breakdown is reasonable.

 

You couldn't think of a better example of someone knowing which side their bread was buttered.

 

One thing that the auditor has conveniently neglected in the letter from which the above is quoted is that the Regulations in fact provide for individual costs and is why the government provided guidance in June 2013 (reiterated from a Council Tax Practice Note in September 1993) stating that 'while it is likely that authorities will have discussed costs with the Clerk to Justices it should be recognised that the Court may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority’. The court would not require satisfying on an individual basis for any arbitrary reason, but because an individual sought to challenge the costs, which is why regulation 35(1) of the Regulations provides that a single liability order may deal with one person and one amount. Regulation 35, so far as is relevant, is as follows

 

Nicolson v Tottenham Magistrates agrees (para 46) in so much as it considers in principle, provided that due consideration is given to the dangers of artificially inflating costs, it may be a legitimate approach to provide an average figure which could be levied across the board in "standard" cases. It does however go further and add that such costs ‘could be amplified in circumstances where there was justification for incurring additional legal and/or administrative costs’.

 

This approach would require the average figure being derived from the aggregate recoverable costs, which (i) excluded any expenditure that was not common to every application, and (ii) be properly referable to the summons/liability order. That is to say in broad terms the exclusion of those elements which are referred to here (paras 64-101). It would then be open to the council in cases where it incurred additional administrative costs (where they were lawful and there was justification to do so) to amplify the standard costs, but again subject to them always being properly referable to the enforcement process.

 

In other words, if the council wishes to lessen the administrative burden of calculating the costs in each case (and comply with the Regulations), it must base its costing NOT on a standard average case, but in respect of a taxpayer who simply receives a summons and settles outstanding liability before the date of the hearing without contacting the council to query the demand.

 

If the Regulations were applied appropriately, the consequences would be that the majority of Staff costs (£914,400), Overheads (£1,165,200) and all of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (£774,000) are not permissible in respect of re-charging expenditure for instituting the complaint.

 

What is set-out above should have been enough to alert the auditor that Haringey's claims were not reasonable in the context of the relevant law which governs costs and should therefore have used its discretion to apply to the Court for a declaration that an item of account is contrary to law under section 17(1) of the 1998 Act, and issued a report in the public interest.

 

The authorities are using the justice system, which is anything but, to allow councils to carry on their questionable activities.

 

The options available, on the face of it, are limited to yet another appeal which must be commenced in the High Court.

 

The Reverend has already had to jump through hoops – having the Magistrates court initially refusing to produce the document in an appeal by way of a ‘case stated’ in the High Court and so had to make a Judicial review claim for a mandatory order.

 

This is casino justice and is used by the IPCC, LGO and any other public body that operates under a statutory complaint's system.

 

You clearly have a significant amount of information that must surely be of huge interest to both the Reverend and his legal team. I have already asked the same question before without an answer. Have you provided this information to the Reverend?

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You clearly have a significant amount of information that must surely be of huge interest to both the Reverend and his legal team. I have already asked the same question before without an answer. Have you provided this information to the Reverend?

 

Though not getting involved directly I'm sure through various anonymous posts on a forum or two, the information will have been picked up.

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Though not getting involved directly I'm sure through various anonymous posts on a forum or two, the information will have been picked up.

 

I am sorry but I would be very surprised indeed if the Reverend or his legal team had read any posts of yours on forums. I truly am suprised at your reply given that I genuinly believed that you had been in touch with the Reverend from the early stages of his complaint. I am sure that other regulars on here share my opinion that there can be nobody else with such in depth knowledge of the subject matter (summons costs) than you. You really must contact the Reverend asap.

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I am sorry but I would be very surprised indeed if the Reverend or his legal team had read any posts of yours on forums. I truly am suprised at your reply given that I genuinly believed that you had been in touch with the Reverend from the early stages of his complaint. I am sure that other regulars on here share my opinion that there can be nobody else with such in depth knowledge of the subject matter (summons costs) than you. You really must contact the Reverend asap.

Have to agree BA, the Reverend and his Legal team need this info PDQ.

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The bailiff: A 12th Century solution re-branded as Enforcement Agents for the 21st Century to seize and sell debtors goods as before Oh so Dickensian!

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