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Hi all, I'm hoping someone can give me some advice.

 

Due to being something of an overgrown child, I have run up council tax arrears.

 

Having been struggling financially recently, I have been taking something of a head in the sand approach to this, telling myself I would deal with it once my finances had settled down, which of course has not happened. I have therefore been ignoring letters from the council, which has led to this situation.

 

I received on Thursday an Enforcement Notice from Equita bailiffs acting on behalf of the council, which is dated 09/10/15. This informed me that the Magistrates Court had granted a liability order against me on 14/08/15, and that I have until 17.30pm (sic) today to pay the amount in full (£3345) or to agree a payment arrangement.

 

This shocked me somewhat, so I made contact with the company yesterday in order to try and sort something out. The gentleman I spoke to was less than helpful, demanding a payment of £850 immediately and, when I queried if he considered this reasonable he replied:

 

"what were you expecting to pay, like a hundred a month? nobody would ever pay off their debts would they, eh?"

 

I have complained both to the company and the council about this attitude, but that's sort of irrelevant as I have no way of proving this conversation took place.

 

I spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to get in touch with the council to no avail.

 

I'm in the fortunate position that my parents are able to help me with this, and they have transferred £1000 to me (and will help with the remainder of the debt), but I'm unsure exactly what is the best way to use this money.

 

Ideally, I'd prefer to pay the council as opposed to the bullies from Equita - I can do this at the Post Office this morning. However, I suspect that this will not be enough to prevent a possible visit from the bailiff tomorrow, before I can get in touch with the council on Monday.

 

Having looked back through the correspondence from the council, I have received 3 reminder notices in June (one for each financial year for which I owe money), giving me a deadline to pay and stating that if I did not make payment or arrange a payment plan by this date the council will "commence legal proceedings without further notice". The total amount stated on the reminder notices comes to £2,251.05, however - is it possible they've added on the total amount for council tax for this financial year to get the £3345 claimed on the enforcement notice? There is no breakdown on the enforcement notice itself.

 

The next correspondence I received from the council is dated 17/08/15, and is an enforcement notice informing me that the liability order was granted and that if payment was not received by 02/09/15 they would instruct enforcement agents to recover the debt.

 

I have NOT received any letter informing me in advance of the date of the hearing - I'm assuming this should have been sent to me in order to allow me the chance to defend myself?

 

Regardless of any procedural error the council may have made or the complaints I have made to Equita and the council, I'm not sure whether to make a payment direct to the council or to do it via the bailiffs - from what I read part payment is not enough to stop them coming out, as they can then whack the visitation fee on top? Ideally I don't want a potential bailiff visit hanging over me tomorrow, but I can't see any way of preventing it given I can't get in touch with the council until Monday.

 

Any advice would be most gratefully received - I appreciate this may be a bit of a ramble so if anything needs clarifying, please just ask.

 

Many thanks,

Ruaridh

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Hi and welcome to CAG

 

I have moved your thread to a more appropriate forum where you will get more help. This is purely admin and you need do nothing.

 

It can be quiet at weekends but I's sure someone will turn up to assist

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Yes they will want to charge the full year up to April 2016, including arrears from the previous year. Unless you have severe health issues making you vulnerable, the council won't deal with you directly, now that Equita are involved. If you paid the council, they may pass to Equita and you will still get a visit by Equita to your home.

 

Best advice is to pay Equita the amount they want now, with written confirmation to Equita and council you have done this. Explain your circumstances to both, with details of income/expenses and offer a monthly amount you can afford. Ask Equita for their details for standing order or online payment details so you can make payments.

 

If you have any car on the driveway, you should remove this, so they cannot try to use it to make unfair demands for payment. You should notopen the door to bailiffs who visit, as they will attempt to gain peaceful entry, start making a list for controlled goods agreement and you will end up paying more. Try to take ownership, by making the payment to Equita and offering monthly amount you can afford.

 

Are you eligible for any benefit help ? Council tax benefit, sole occupancy ? Have a look into this.

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From what you have written you appear to have had a lot of correspondence from the council to advise you of the debt and eventual Liability Order and you do seem to have been given a lot of opportunity to seek alternative arrangements with the council direct in order to avoid the accounts being passed over to bailiffs.

 

Given that the amount of the debt is over £3,000 I would urge you to agree a payment proposal with Equita before the 'compliance stage' ends at 5pm today. Presently, bailiff fees are limited by law to just £75. Once the compliance stage ends (at 5pm today) , the debt will be passed to an individual bailiff for the purpose of visiting your home and 'taking control' of your goods (hence the name of the regulations....The Taking Control of Goods Regulations. That visit will incur you in a substantial additional amount of approx £385.

 

If you are minded to make payment to the local authority direct then it would be wise to first read the following guidance:

 

http://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?453047-Bailiff-enforcement-Setting-up-a-payment-arrangement-and-whether-you-can-pay-the-court-or-the-council-direct

 

PS: Could you please post back to let me know the date that the Notice of Enforcement is dated.

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Hi and welcome to CAG

 

I have moved your thread to a more appropriate forum where you will get more help. This is purely admin and you need do nothing.

 

It can be quiet at weekends but I's sure someone will turn up to assist

 

Many thanks - apologies for putting it in the wrong place!

 

Yes they will want to charge the full year up to April 2016, including arrears from the previous year. Unless you have severe health issues making you vulnerable, the council won't deal with you directly, now that Equita are involved. If you paid the council, they may pass to Equita and you will still get a visit by Equita to your home.

 

Best advice is to pay Equita the amount they want now, with written confirmation to Equita and council you have done this. Explain your circumstances to both, with details of income/expenses and offer a monthly amount you can afford. Ask Equita for their details for standing order or online payment details so you can make payments.

 

If you have any car on the driveway, you should remove this, so they cannot try to use it to make unfair demands for payment. You should notopen the door to bailiffs who visit, as they will attempt to gain peaceful entry, start making a list for controlled goods agreement and you will end up paying more. Try to take ownership, by making the payment to Equita and offering monthly amount you can afford.

 

Are you eligible for any benefit help ? Council tax benefit, sole occupancy ? Have a look into this.

 

Many thanks for the advice. That explains the difference in amounts - would there be any scope to claim that I only actually owe the council tax until the end of this month?

 

I'll not have a car near the house until I'm sure they've called off the dogs - I've seen that come up on lots of similar threads both here and elsewhere.

 

I'm reluctant to deal directly with Equita as I don't want to encourage the council in their use of them, but I guess that boat has long since sailed. I'll have to console myself with the complaint I put in, which no doubt will go nowhere.

 

From what you have written you appear to have had a lot of correspondence from the council to advise you of the debt and eventual Liability Order and you do seem to have been given a lot of opportunity to seek alternative arrangements with the council direct in order to avoid the accounts being passed over to bailiffs.

 

Given that the amount of the debt is over £3,000 I would urge you to agree a payment proposal with Equita before the 'compliance stage' ends at 5pm today. Presently, bailiff fees are limited by law to just £75. Once the compliance stage ends (at 5pm today) , the debt will be passed to an individual bailiff for the purpose of visiting your home and 'taking control' of your goods (hence the name of the regulations....The Taking Control of Goods Regulations. That visit will incur you in a substantial additional amount of approx £385.

 

If you are minded to make payment to the local authority direct then it would be wise to first read the following guidance:

 

 

 

PS: Could you please post back to let me know the date that the Notice of Enforcement is dated.

 

The enforcement notice is dated 09/10/15 and, as I said above I only received it on Thursday!

 

I understand from further reading that the 'compliance' phase is supposed to last 14 days, but there's no legal requirement for this?

 

You are of course correct, I shouldn't have been ignoring the letters. I am surprised I didn't receive a letter informing me of the court date, but I'll take that up with them later - it's not going to help me now in any case. This should be a (much-needed) kick up the backside for me.

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No, if payments are late, under council tax regulations the full amount due for the year can be requested. The council are going to want arrears paid off asap, with one largish payment followed by regular payments. Councils only offer monthly payments to make it more convenient, but as soon as you are late, they can request the whole lot.

 

Compliance phase is 7 days, then they will charge you further enforcement fees if they visit. Best to try to sort out, before they try to visit.

 

You should have been informed of court date re liability order. But even if you had this, unless you could give valid reasons to stop this, they would have obtained one.

 

Be aware that many councils use Capita to do their admin and i think Capita own Equita. So any complaint you make will meet with a brick wall.

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The Notice of Enforcement is defective. Giving them the benefit of the doubt it was posted the same day and delivered the following day then the first of the 7 days would be Monday 12 October, taking the 7 clear days notice into consideration then this would be up by 5pm on 19 October. Not the first time or likely to be the last they have got this wrong. In my view they cannot charge the £75 on this basis and would need to serve another one giving the correct timescales on it.

 

You say your parents will help you out - are they likely to make the whole sum available to you if needed. I would suggest you contact your local Councillor(s) in the first instance informing them of Equitas defective notice and you now have the where with all to pay the debt & will they intervene first thing Monday on your behalf. In my view Councillors are available 7 days per week up until approx 9pm - best initial contact is by phone.

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The Notice of Enforcement is defective. Giving them the benefit of the doubt it was posted the same day and delivered the following day then the first of the 7 days would be Monday 12 October, taking the 7 clear days notice into consideration then this would be up by 5pm on 19 October. Not the first time or likely to be the last they have got this wrong. In my view they cannot charge the £75 on this basis and would need to serve another one giving the correct timescales on it.

 

You say your parents will help you out - are they likely to make the whole sum available to you if needed. I would suggest you contact your local Councillor(s) in the first instance informing them of Equitas defective notice and you now have the where with all to pay the debt & will they intervene first thing Monday on your behalf. In my view Councillors are available 7 days per week up until approx 9pm - best initial contact is by phone.

 

Thanks for the tip, and general advice.

 

Sheffield City Council is one of those which have outsourced their back office stuff, so the complaint I submitted there will no doubt be examined rigorously! I emailed my councillor on Friday with a complaint as well, but have not heard anything back so I'll be chasing that up when I finish work. Interestingly, a simple Google search turns up a cached page on whatdotheyknow.co.uk which contains the Service Level Agreement between the council and Equita, which entertainingly contains a clause stating:

 

"The EA Company will not advertise the fact it is providing services to Sheffield City Council under this agreement. "

 

You can also find a couple of other SLAs with other councils this way. I don't know if this is common knowledge, but it's quite a useful document as one can imagine.

 

In terms of my specific case, my parents will help me out with the full amount owed - I've agreed to pay 3 further instalments to Equita to clear the balance, although I may get in touch with the council to make the arrangement directly with them, as the SLA specifically states that I can do this. I fully appreciate how lucky I am in this regard.

 

I'll be doing my best to use the SLA against Equita through my councillor and MP if necessary. I may also try the local press. Any other ideas for actions I could take most welcome!

 

Edited by EvilScotsman1984
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