Recovery and enforcement
Provisions covering the enforcement of Council Tax are contained in the following:
- Local Government Finance Act 1992 ("the Act"); and
- Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 ("1992 Regulations").
We will begin collection of Council Tax when a liable person fails to pay the amount due. The amount due can be on a reminder or final notice.
Joint and Several Liability
Where there are several people liable to pay Council Tax, each person is responsible for the full amount. Any arrangements about who pays what percentage of the bill are between the payers. Three joint tenants of a property may agree that each will pay one third of the bill. If two tenants make payments but the third does not, the reminder is issued to all three tenants. Any further action can be taken against all, or any one of the three tenants. It is usual for the bill to be in joint names. An example could be 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, a reminder notice will be issued. This will require payment to be made within seven days. Only two reminders will be issued in any financial year. Failure to pay an instalment on a third occasion in the year will result in a final notice being issued. This will be for the full balance outstanding for the year.
If the overdue amount is paid by the date specified, the customer may continue to pay by monthly instalments. If the overdue amount is not paid by the date specified, we will issue a Summons to Court. Read the First Reminder (PDF: 65Kb / 2 pages).
If the overdue amount is paid by the date specified, the customer may continue to pay by monthly instalments. If the overdue amount is not paid by the date specified, we will issue a Summons to Court. Read the Second Reminder (PDF: 49Kb / 2 pages).
A final notice explains that the customer has lost the right to pay by instalments. Read the Final Notice (PDF: 79Kb / 2 pages). The balance for the financial year should now be paid in full. Encouragement is given to the customer to bring their instalments up-to-date and to start paying by direct debit.
We have decided to take recovery action against the customer to ensure that Council Tax is paid in full. A complaint is made to the North Cumbria Magistrates' Court. This allows a summons to be issued with the authority of the Court. This gives the customer at least 14 days' notice of the date of the Court hearing. The Council Tax Summons explains to the customer that we intend to ask the Magistrates to make a Liability Order. Read the Council Tax Summons (PDF: 79Kb / 2 pages). This is for the amount of Council Tax outstanding, plus the costs incurred. The amount of the costs is agreed beforehand by the Magistrates and ourselves. The customer has the option to appear in Court 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 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, we will attend the Court to present our case. We will have to prove that all necessary procedures have been adhered to. It is normal practice to ask for Liability Orders in bulk. If the customer attends Court to dispute the evidence, they must be allowed to put their case forward. If the Magistrates agree that the customer has not adhered to the necessary procedures, they have to make the Liability Order. Liability Orders are for our sole use and remain our property. The following documents will be sent out on the same day as the Hearing by the Recovery Team:
Request for Information
The Request for Information form requires that certain information is supplied to us. Information is required within 14 days. Failure to supply the information, or to supply false information, is a criminal offence. If found guilty, it carries a substantial fine. The form allows the customer to enter into an arrangement with us to clear the outstanding balance. This must be done 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. This may be followed by a summons. The summons is hand-delivered by a Recovery Officer, or posted by Recorded Delivery. A further Request for Information form is enclosed. The form gives 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 made to us to clear the outstanding Council Tax. This must be done by the end of the financial year. Arrangements can be weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. If the arrangement is accepted by us 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. This is done by sending the necessary documentation:
- Attachment of Earnings Order (PDF: 40Kb / 1 page) to their employer. The employer must comply with the Order. The employer must deduct a percentage of a person's earnings, in line with legislation.
- Deductions to be made by an employer under Attachment of Earnings Order (PDF: 177Kb). If the employer fails to comply with the Order, we may prosecute.
The Attachment of Earnings Order Procedure (the Order)
- A copy is sent to the employer stating that further information can be requested from us. Contact details are given below. On receipt of the Order, the employer is asked to complete and return the Order. See the confirmation slip (PDF: 5Kb).
- A copy is posted to the employee. Read the Attachment of Earnings Order: Duties of Debtors (PDF: 10Kb / 1 page).
The employer has to apply the Order as instructed. The employer must send the deducted money to us by the 19th of the following month. The 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. The decision to do so rests with the Department for Work and Pensions. They will be aware of what the person is receiving and whether 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 relates only to Elected Members of:
- the District Council;
- the County Council; or
- the Police and Crime Commissioner.
We have an option to attach up to 40% of a Member's allowance.
Enforcement Officers (Bailiffs)
If an arrangement fails, or is not offered, we 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. The debt will be sent to the Enforcement Officers in 14 days if they do not. 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, we 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. Even at this stage, we direct them to pay by instalments. This time, however, we tell them what amount we expect to be paid.
Bankruptcy may be considered if we have information that an individual's outgoings far exceed their income. 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 (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. This also applies to all other debt owed to us. This can potentially be up to the financial year end.
If an arrangement fails, or is not offered, a Charging Order may be considered. This means that the Liability Order is presented before a judge. The judge may place a charge against a person's property. If the property is 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 we take the case to Court, a committal to prison warning letter (PDF: 122 Kb / 1 page) is sent to the customer. The letter tells the customer that we now intend to begin 'committal to prison' proceedings. It urges the customer to make contact. Failure to make contact will result in us applying to the Magistrates for a Summons to appear before the Court. There are significant costs involved. A minimum of £240 will be added to the debt. At Court we will present the case and will refer to all necessary evidence. The customer will have the chance to explain to the Magistrates why they have not paid. The Magistrates will be asked to find the customer guilty in not paying the Council Tax. We will ask that the customer be given a term of imprisonment. This is in line with current guidelines. We are bound by the Court's decision. 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.
Instalments are monitored by us and reported back to the Magistrates on a date fixed by the Court for review.