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Bailiff Advice

Bailiffs and Council Tax. Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) decisions regarding changes of address.

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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:

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The following is an extract from a recently released decision regarding Gedling Borough Council;

 

PS: Decisions from the Local Government Ombudsman appear online three months after the date of completion.

 

http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/benefits-and-tax/council-tax/16-003-100

 

 

 

The complaint

The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains the Council did not act on his wife’s telephone call notifying it of their
change of address.
He also complains the Council is pursuing him for fees incurred for late payment of council tax.

 

 

 

What the Ombudsman found:

 

Mr X moved house in September 2015. The new occupants of his former property contacted the Council to provide their details and became liable for council tax from the date they moved in. The Council issued a final bill to Mr X for unpaid council tax but says
Mr X did not provide a forwarding address
. It therefore sent the bill to the property address. Mr X says his wife Mrs X did provide their new address to the Council but has been unable to provide any evidence of her telephone call. The Council is therefore unable to find any record of it.

 

Mr X did not receive the council tax demand, so he did not pay it. The Council therefore took action to pursue payment, obtaining a liability order against him through the Magistrates’ Court; this added £80 to his council tax debt. As Mr X still did not pay, the Council instructed enforcement agents (bailiffs) to pursue the outstanding balance on his account. This incurred a further £75 compliance stage fee.

 

The Council’s bailiffs located Mr X in February 2016 and Mr X has since paid his outstanding council tax.
He refuses, however, to pay the additional fees
incurred and complains about the Council’s attempts to pursue him for payment.

 

The Council says £155 remains payable and that if Mr X does not pay, its bailiffs will take further action, increasing the amount owed to £235.

 

The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint that the Council did not act on his wife’s notification of their change of address as there is not enough evidence of fault.

 

The Council is unable to find any record of Mrs X’s telephone call and Mr X is unable to provide any evidence of it. Without any evidence to show Mrs X provided their new address the Ombudsman is unlikely to find fault in the Council’s decision to pursue Mr X’s council tax arrears which incurred further costs for him. And in any event the Ombudsman cannot investigate a complaint about an application for a liability order because this concerns the start of court action.

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This particular decision concerns Southampton City Council.

 

http://www.lgo.org.uk/decisions/benefits-and-tax/council-tax/15-012-149

 

 

What the Ombudsman found:

 

 

Mr X says that he left a property in October 2013 and set up a direct debit to pay off the council tax arrears (following a Liability Order). However, his ex-partner
cancelled
the order when clearing the account.

 

As no further payments had been received, the Council instructed bailiffs to recover the amount.

 

Mr X was contacted by bailiffs in August 2015. Mr X says that this is unfair and the costs have now increased substantially. He says that the Council did not contact him to tell him what action it was taking.

 

I note that
Mr X did not appear to have advised the Council of his new address when he moved
.

 

Councils are entitled to instruct bailiffs to recover debts when an account is in arrears and a Liability Order has been obtained. Ultimately it is for the liable person to ensure that their council tax has been paid as they are legally bound to pay the amount.

 

There is no evidence of maladministration in the way it has acted here. In the absence of maladministration it is not for the Ombudsman to question its decision to instruct bailiffs.

 

 

Final decision

 

For the reasons given above I do not propose to investigate this complaint. There is no evidence of maladministration.

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