Recovery and enforcement
The statutory provisions covering the enforcement of Council Tax are contained in the Local Government Finance Act 1992 ("the Act") and Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 ("1992 Regulations"). The Recovery and Enforcement Team begin their role in the collection of Council Tax when any liable person fails to pay the amount due on a reminder or final notice sent by us. To find out what happens at each stage of the recovery process, please click on the relevant heading below.
Joint and Several Liability
Where there are several people liable to pay Council Tax for a property, each person is responsible for the full amount. Any arrangements about who pays what percentage of the bill are between the payers themselves. For example, three joint tenants of a property may agree between themselves that each will pay one third of the bill. If two tenants make their payments but the third does not, the reminder will be issued in the name of all three tenants and any further action can be taken against all, or any one of the three tenants. A person is not under a duty to pay an amount of Council Tax for which they are jointly and severally liable unless they have been sent a bill. It is usual for the bill to be in joint names, for example, Mr and Mrs 'X', or Mr 'A', Mr 'B' and Miss 'C'. Summonses and notice of Liability Orders are sent to each named person on an account.
First and Second Reminders
Reminders are sent addressed to all liable persons named on the original bill (only one reminder per dwelling is sent, they are not sent to each individual). If no payments are made, or insufficient payments are received by the due date of an instalment, a reminder notice will be issued requiring payment to be made within seven days. Only two reminders will be issued in any financial year. If a customer fails to pay an instalment on a third occasion in the year, a final notice will be issued for the full balance outstanding for the year.
If after receiving the First Reminder (PDF: 65Kb / 2 pages) the overdue amount is paid by the date specified in the reminder, the customer may continue to pay by monthly instalments. If the overdue amount is not paid by the date specified, the next stage is to issue a Summons to Court (see Summons Procedure).
If after receiving the Second Reminder (PDF: 49Kb / 2 pages) the overdue amount is paid by the date specified in the reminder, the customer may continue to pay by monthly instalments. If the overdue amount is not paid by the date specified, the next stage is to issue a Summons to Court (see Summons Procedure).
A Final Notice (PDF: 79Kb / 2 pages) explains to the customer that they have lost the right to pay by instalments and that the balance for the financial year should now be paid in full. Even at this point encouragement is given to the customer to bring their instalments up-to-date and to start paying by direct debit.
At this stage we have decided to take recovery action against the customer to ensure that Council Tax is paid in full. Firstly, a complaint is made to the North Cumbria Magistrates' Court. This allows a summons to be issued with the authority of the Court, which gives the customer at least 14 days' notice of the date of the Court hearing. The Council Tax Summons (PDF: 79Kb / 2 pages) explains to the customer that we intend to ask the Magistrates to make a Liability Order for the amount of Council Tax outstanding, plus the costs incurred (the amount of the costs is agreed beforehand by the Magistrates and us). The customer has the option to appear in Court in person on the summonsed date to dispute the making of the liability order. If payment of the full amount, including costs, is made before the day of the Court hearing, the application for a Liability Order will not proceed. There are very few defences to the making of a Liability Order. For information on the defences, please contact the Recovery Team. When a summons is sent, we include some explanatory notes (PDF: 120Kb/ 2 pages)
A Liability Order gives us the authority of the Court to recover monies by the following methods:
- Attachment of Allowances
- Attachment of Earnings
- Attachment of Benefits
- Use of Enforcement Officers (Bailiffs)
- Committal to Prison
- Charging Order
If, on the date of the hearing the amount has not been paid in full, an officer from the Recovery Team will attend the Court to present our case. We will have to prove that all the necessary procedures have been adhered to. It is normal practice to ask for Liability Orders in bulk. However, if an individual does attend the Court to dispute the evidence, he/she must be allowed to put his/her case forward. If it is accepted by the Magistrates that he/she has not adhered to the necessary procedures as the law dictates, the Magistrates have no choice but to make the Liability Order. Liability Orders are for our sole use and remain our property. A Notice of Liability Order and the Request for Information Form (PDF: 110Kb / 4 pages) will be sent out on the same day as the Hearing by the Recovery Team.
Request for Information
The Request for Information Form which is sent out following the Liability Order hearing requires that certain information is supplied to the us within 14 days. Failure to supply the information, or to supply false information, is a criminal offence and, if found guilty, carries a substantial fine. On the form we have included a section which allows the customer to enter into an arrangement to clear the outstanding balance by the end of the financial year. If this arrangement is acceptable to us, and is maintained by the customer, no further action is required. If the form is not returned, a reminder will be sent which may be followed by a summons to appear at Court. The summons is hand-delivered by a Recovery Officer, or posted by Recorded Delivery. A further Request for Information form is enclosed, giving the customer another chance to supply the information. If the form is returned before the Court date, the case will be withdrawn. If the information is not supplied, the Magistrates will hear the evidence and may impose a fine and award costs on behalf of us.
Local arrangements are offers of payment which have been made to us to clear the outstanding Council Tax by the end of the financial year. We can be fairly flexible, in that the arrangements can be weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. If the arrangement is accepted by the Recovery Team and maintained by the customer, no further action is required. If the customer fails to maintain the arrangement, we have several options at our disposal as to how to recover the money.
Attachment of Earnings
If a customer makes an arrangement, which fails, or does not offer to pay, we can attach their earnings by sending the necessary documentation Attachment of Earnings Order (PDF: 40Kb / 1 page) to their employer. The employer must comply with the Attachment of Earnings Order by deducting a percentage of a person's earnings, in line with legislation: Deductions to be made by employer under Attachment of Earnings Order (PDF: 177Kb) If the employer fails to comply with the Attachment of Earnings Order, they commit an offence and we may prosecute in such a case.
The Attachment of Earnings Order Procedure
- A copy is sent to the employer with a note stating that further information can be requested from the Recovery Team (contact details are given below). On receipt of the Attachment of Earnings Order, the employer is asked to complete it and return in the enclosed prepaid envelope the confirmation slip (PDF: 5Kb)
- A copy is posted out to the employee with an explanation on the back about the Attachment of Earnings Order: Duties of Debtors (PDF: 10Kb / 1 page)
The employer has to apply the Attachment of Earnings Order as instructed and send the deducted money to us by the 19th of the following month. The Attachment of Earnings Order runs until the debt is cleared.
Attachment of Benefits
If an arrangement fails, or is not offered, we can attach certain benefits that a person may be receiving. Although we can apply to attach a person's benefit, the decision to do so rests with the Department for Work and Pensions. They will be aware what the person is receiving and whether, or not, the attachment is acceptable. We can presently attach a person's:
- Income Support
- Job Seeker's Allowance
- Employment Support Allowance
- Guaranteed Pension Credit
- Universal Credit
Attachment of Allowances
This option relates only to Elected Members of the District Council, County Council or the Police and Crime Commissioner. The Recovery Team has an option to attach up to 40% of a Member's allowance.
Enforcement Officers (Bailiffs)
If an arrangement fails, or is not offered, the Recovery Team can consider sending a customer's case to the Enforcement Officers. Before doing so, the customer is sent a warning letter and Schedule of Costs. The letter explains that there is an option to make an arrangement, otherwise the debt will be sent to the Enforcement Officers in fourteen days. The Schedule of Costs sets out the potential monies involved should the case be dealt with by the Enforcement Officers. Once the case has been passed to the Enforcement Officers, the customer must deal directly with the Enforcement Officers. We will only intervene in exceptional circumstances.
Return from Enforcement Officers (Bailiffs)
If the Enforcement Officers are unable to recover the monies, the account is returned to us with the reason why. This is known as a certificated Nulla Bona. At this stage, the Recovery Team will write to the customer advising them of the intention to take them to Court for committal proceedings. A Council Tax last chance letter (PDF: 6Kb / 1 page) is sent and, even at this stage, we direct them to pay by instalments. This time, however, we tell them what amount we expect to be paid.
If an arrangement fails, or is not offered, and the Recovery Team has information that an individual's outgoings far exceed their income, bankruptcy may be considered. The first stage of this action requires that we serve a statutory demand on the customer. A formal petition is then taken before the County Court, in this case, Carlisle. The customer is notified and given leave to defend the petition. If the petition is accepted, the amount on the Liability Order is non-recoverable (as is all other debt owed to us), potentially up to the financial year end.
If an arrangement fails, or is not offered, the Recovery Team may consider a Charging Order. This means that the Liability Order is presented before a judge, who may place a charge against a person's property. This action means that if the property was sold, we would receive the monies owed. In certain circumstances, a forced sale of the property will be appropriate in order that the debt is satisfied.
If our last chance offer is ignored, a thorough review of the whole case is carried out. If the decision is to take the case forward to Court, a committal to prison warning letter (PDF: 122 Kb / 1 page) is sent to the customer telling them that we now intend to begin 'committal to prison' proceedings. It urges the customer to make contact. Failure to make contact will result in the Recovery Court Officer applying to the Magistrates for a Summons to secure the appearance of the customer before the Court. There are significant costs involved and a minimum of £240 will be added to the debt. At Court our Recovery Court Officer will present the case for us and will refer to all necessary evidence. The customer will have the chance to explain to the Magistrates why they have not paid as demanded. The Recovery Court Officer will ask that the Magistrates find that the customer is guilty of wilful refusal, or culpable neglect, in not paying the Council Tax and that they be given a term of imprisonment in line with current guidelines. We are bound by the Court's decision and any alteration to that decision has to be made by the Court itself. The Magistrates have the option of committing to prison, remitting the debt, or making an order for payments by instalments. The instalments are monitored by our Recovery Court Officer and reported back to the Magistrates on a date fixed by the Court for review.