Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A National Scandal

Following a burst of activity on this, I have a few irons in a few fires, and some persons in high places are looking at my various complaints.  I have also sent out a few strategic FOI requests that will undoubtedly prove useful in the future.  The slow nature of this process means that this cannot be a daily blog, as there is little to report between events.  However, just to give you an idea of how large this issue is, I thought I would do a little round-up of some of todays observances.  It's not just South Gloucestershire Council who are behaving like a third world kleptocracy.

This phenomenon is well documented in other local authorities.  But there is another more subtle fraud at play that does not fill as many column inches as rogue bailiffs like Rundle & Co.  The councils themselves are engaged in a grubby little fraud of their own.

Each time a summons is generated with reference to council tax arrears, councils charge on average £85 for the Liability Order, not least the criminal enterprise known as South Gloucestershire Council.  One of my FOI requests is to establish exactly how much that set of crooks are extorting for the last financial year, but helpfully, just to give you an idea of the numbers at play, we have this.

Two hundred people are summoned to court EVERY DAY on average across Manchester for council tax arrears, with with a whopping 50,000 summons being issued last year alone at a sum of £82 a time. That's right folks. Manchester raises £4.1 MILLION a year (and rising) from Liability Orders, which they expect us to believe is a "reasonable cost" of sending a CSV file to the courts each week.  There is a law that states these charges must only reflect "reasonable costs", but every council in the land is telling porkies about the actual cost of running a couple of queries on their tax collection databases.

Add this up across every council and you are looking at some pretty serious numbers. They are criminalising the poorest and profiteering out of those least able to pay.  In my view this is nothing short of fraud and councils should now be subject to the Proceeds of Crime Act, whereby the sums illegally confiscated should be returned to the people from whom it was stolen.

But note the tone of the piece I linked to.  The Uncle Tom local media, who dare not criticize their council masters in fear of losing the advertising revenue, describe citizens as "tax dodgers", when even the Citizens Advice Bureau is predicting a 20% increase in referrals to bailiffs by councils due to the welfare changes.  And this is what passes for local journalism.  So bad has this situation got that in Peterborough, it has triggered huge queues at the city’s magistrates’ court.

Courts in Norfolk granted 21,903 liability orders to the county’s councils for non-payment of council tax in 2012/13. Those orders mean people have two weeks to pay up or bailiffs could be sent out to recoup the money on behalf of the councils, including the Liability Order surcharge.

What should be a means of covering basic expenses, councils are using as a very large revenue stream, chiefly by criminalising ordinary people.  And while local media prefers to see it in terms of "tax dodgers" and the national media pays no attention at all to it, the best we get from "Citizens Advice" is a banale quote...  
"in the space of just two months, we had seen a surge in people seeking advice on how to deal with bailiffs and council tax arrears. Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Bailiffs will see their profits rise at the expense of hard-pressed households."
Yeah, no shit Sherlock; So why aren't you guys publicly condemning the state sanctioned fraud and council corruption?  Cat got your tongue?  And the supposed taxpayers advocacy group is equally weak.  "Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Manchester can’t afford for so much Council Tax to be left unpaid".  Why sure it can Matthew. It can sack the legions of worthless, lazy and corrupt parasites on its payroll and leave the money in our hands, but Matthew Sinclair and the TPA make their living being a rent-a-quote for lazy local media hacks and thus do not rock the boat.

Similarly you will find bland statements from our elected officials like this "Deputy Leader Cllr Gledhill said “Every penny owed to the Council that is not collected means higher charges for Thurrock residents who do pay on time.", meanwhile councils are sitting on huge cash reserves of anywhere up to £90m and are still advertising for worthless overpaid non-jobbers.  Austerity?  You're doing it wrong!

This is a national scandal not befitting a first world liberal democracy.  Nationwide, councils are estimated to levy in the order of £230 million a year in summons and liability order charges and, if that rate had been sustained for the twenty years the regulations have been in force, the cumulative overcharge could run to £4 billion.  That queues of people are forming outside magistrates courts over councils excessive use of the courts, turning courts into revenue streams over houses of justice, is frankly breathtaking and should be a front page story of national importance were our pathetic media on the ball.  The one and only worthwhile bit of journalism I have encountered is this.
It's thought potentially, many millions of pounds may have been overcharged by Councils in the pursuit of Council Tax recovery since its introduction in 1992.  It has long been speculated that Councils profit from taking householders to court for being late with Council Tax payments.  Local Authorities are charged a fraction of the amount passed on to residents in costs.  Each Liability Order applied for costs councils £3 according to the Magistrates' Courts fee schedule. Struggling householders are then charged many multiples of this, for example, one London Borough Council imposes £125 costs for making late payments for Council Tax, but for Business rates, this increases to £220 for an identical process.
It continues...
The law doesn't allow for profits, only reasonable cost incurred for the administration involved, but councils increase costs as a "deterrent" element or to coerce payment. The same council documented that "the extra cost is seen as a way of encouraging prompt payment", and as a bonus would raise additional income of £38k a year. There is nothing in legislation to support an increase in costs on this basis.
As we have seen, with previous enquiries on this issue, councils are very guarded in what information they release, they have no intention of inspecting or investigating their bailiffs and they resist transparency over liability order profiteering.  The police will also drag their heels in the hope that you will give up.  It is at this point, "tax dodging" becomes both a moral and civic duty.  Anyone for a Starbucks?  Give us a call on my Vodafone.


  1. Thurrock Council tried to charge me £65 for being £18.87 in 'arrears' I got the charge removed by threatening to write to my MP.

    Just recently they sent out standard letters to anyone in any arrears, I know it was a 'standard letter' because it didn't include the amount and several of my friends got exactly the same letter. I phoned and it turned out that I owed £3.49, the letter was timed to arrive 3-4 days before the instalment due date, I imagine in the hope that people would ring in and pay up while they were on the phone. I was late paying by 4 days a couple of months ago, the threatening letter arrived 3 days after the payment date. They now say I have had my two warnings and any further lateness will mean a demand for full settlement, how many other people have been caught out by a tiny sum and how many of them will end up in court? All of this tells us two things: they are skint and if a few days makes so much difference, they are desperate. he he.

  2. We’re told problem payers adversely affect cash-flow for local authorities and increase costs through lost interest. There is even an example where a local authority factored in the interest lost as an element of incurred costs to be reclaimed in the summons charged to defendants. Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council calculated that £62,500 of the total annual incurred costs (44%) was attributable to interest. This came a close second to the wages bill which was calculated at £68,960 (48%).

    How this figure came about and the factors governing the calculation are unknown, but wonder if monies obtained from debtors forced to make earlier payments were factored in. Rather than an incurred cost, it could be the opposite was true. The interest element brought about by issuing summonses may represent a benefit to local authorities rather than a loss incurred in the recovery process.

    In many cases, the CTAX liability is paid on receipt of the summons, and because the instalment facility will have been withdrawn this is a lump sum which the council gains interest from sooner and benefiting the department from a cash-flow point of view. The process is entirely automated in these particular circumstances and an additional amount of, say £10, would easily cover costs reasonably incurred by the council for the summons, especially as the authority benefits from "early" lump sum payments. In these circumstances, it could be that the councils, in fact, owe the costs to the debtor, as the interest probably outweighed the small amount of postage, stationary and magistrates' court's fees (£3) needed to process the summons.

    There's an interesting admission from Leicestershire Magistrates' court and several other sources that these associations, quangos or whatever you like to call them, have no more legal authority in setting summons/liability order costs than a group of friends in a pub. There are also different versions – depending on who's offering the information – in regards who agrees/approves the level, i.e., the Magistrates' court or local authority. This of course is merely academic, as if what some sources tell us is true, it's for the bench to determine at the court hearing.

  3. Portsmouth City Council were asked for a breakdown of administration expenditure in connection with issuing summonses and obtaining liability orders in the pursuit of Council Tax recovery.


    After fobbing this off several times they were persuaded to cobble some basic costs together, but earlier had stated there was no requirement to have a breakdown, the costs have only to be reasonable and the court had never raised any concerns over the amount being charged.

    The council provided a spreadsheet:


    The intention to deceive was immediately evident. Even dismissing the unrealistic costs of a third of its overall budget attributed to general administration (more if allowing business rate costs), the costs could be halved. But worth asking, is it really reasonable to include Accommodation, Human Resources, Finance, IT and Media as part of the incurred costs for issuing the summons?

    For its calculation (Council Tax) it attributed £42,000 to fees paid to the Magistrates' court (£3 per item) which accounts for 14,000 summonses. This is accountancy at it most creative when according to CIPFA the number averages out at 10,786 from data obtained over the two previous years. So here alone, it's reasonable to say Portsmouth Council have invented nearly £10k to add to its costs which it will charge to its residents.

    I can only assume Portsmouth Council didn't expect anyone to scrutinise its estimate, otherwise they wouldn't have used a figure of 14,000 (summons) to hike its apparent expenditure, whilst using a drastically reduced figure (9,500 summons) to split the costs for the purposes of determining the charge per defendant.

    The Council had yet more front, it continued to reduce this figure by 30% (6,650) so its inflated, made-up costs had in theory to be split between even fewer householders, thus increasing the charge per individual.

    It seems the council, by fiddling this 30% adjustment, was admitting its incompetence as a tax collector, as this data was falsified to make allowances for bad debts. However, the council simply disagreed when it was expressed that in effect it was adding an amount to those who do pay, to compensate for those who don't.

    With these obvious corrections alone, Portsmouth City Council's estimate of £81 for each Council Tax summons was brought down to £49. This was achieved without even looking at the other dubious £0.5 million.

  4. A FoI request to West Somerset District Council provides a useful insight into how – when compared with Portsmouth (see previous post) – varying sized local authorities breakdown summons costs.



    One of the biggest factors determining the summons cost for each individual is the number of defendants the council's incurred costs must be split. The process is automated so any correspondence the defendant receives in connection with the authority's application to the Magistrates' court will have been generated entirely as a consequence of parameters set on the council tax software package. The only obvious costs varying with application numbers are postage, stationary and the fee paid (£3) to the court. Automation increases "profit potential" significantly with the number of applications, unless of course the individual charge is compensated to ensure income generated doesn't exceed expenditure.

    A breakdown of costs by Portsmouth (see previous post) and West Somerset Councils when compared revealed both were formulated similarly but the likeness ended there. The significant difference between the two councils is Portsmouth has nearly seven times the population in its control than West Somerset. You would expect the percentage of budgets attributed to incurred expenditure would be the same for different size councils, after all we're dealing with proportions here, not monetary figures.

    Comparing both councils, the smaller one, West Somerset (for Ctax and Business rates) attributes 18.75% of employee and budgets for support services to summons costs. Portsmouth, on a similar basis claims the figure is 37.3% (33.3% Ctax 4% Business rates). For scaled-up operations then, there's an apparent need to disproportionately gear up the percentage attributable to incurred costs. Creativity is used not only in dividing budgets, there's further evidence that allowances made for bad debt are also a tool used to force a desired outcome. More profitable Portsmouth council has to reduce an already fiddled number of summonses by 30%, so that the fake incurred costs, when split between the made-up figure would turn out a high enough figure for its standard costs. On the other hand, West Somerset with a fraction of the number of summonses has less of a problem. An adjustment of 5% is all it needs to fine tune the calculation to achieve its standard costs.

    The more scaled up the operation the more it seems councils are required to be creative in their breakdowns if the illusion is wanted they're not profiting obscenely from debt recovery. More studies would likely uncover that the size of the authority majorly influences the degree to which profits need disguising. Where a breakdown is provided, it'd be a safe bet that a procedure exists employing the principles of "reverse calculation" where the sum is established, after which, invented determining factors are varied to fool the Magistrates court into believing the sum is justified.

  5. PART I

    It requires an outstanding memory to retain credibility when telling porkies.

    We know councils are pulling the wool over our eyes when they tell us the vast summs they charge in summons costs are incurred.

    Can it cost all these millions for a process run by computer software, having parameters set which when criteria has been met, triggers automatically thousands of summonses to be sent out?

    In this post, with a little help from FoI, we discover how Reigate and Banstead Borough Council tried but embarrassingly failed in its attempt to insult our intelligence.

    It was asked of the authority for data covering a number of years in respect of Council Tax and Business Rates (NNDR) summons costs, in particular the costs charged to individual householders in respect of these and a justification for when they were increased. A second part asked for an account describing the difference (if any) between liability order applications, i.e., Council Tax and NNDR.

    All can be seen here: (FoI 131409), but what led to the council being rumbled was the letter (17 March, 2009) applying to Redhill Magistrates Court wishing to increase its court summons costs. Incidentally, exactly the same paragraph was contained in another sent 29 February 2012 wishing to increase both Summons and Liability Order costs. It also found its way into a Cabinet Report of the Head of Revenue and Benefits in a review of court costs for Eastleigh Borough Council.

    "It is apparent with the increase in the actual time spent in the preparation work, the time spent in court and with customers, the current charges are insufficient to cover the true cost of this area of work and therefore a review has been undertaken to avoid this cost falling on those majority of taxpayers who pay their bills on time."

    The requester subsequently asked if it could be clarified with regards the letter, what the increases in "time spent" were a consequence of.

    What needs to be considered in conjunction with the above was the response explaining why costs for Business rates had been on average 40% higher than Council Tax.

    "With regard to your second question, the basic differences are that there are two separate teams dealing with the issuing of Council Tax and Non Domestic Rates summonses. As there are fewer Non Domestic Rates summonses the cost per summons is greater than Council Tax."

    Note that fewer summonses make for higher costs per account. Presumably the logic being that issuing more summonses reduces the cost per unit owing to automation and is why the individual charge must be higher for Business rates – compensating for costs having to be split between fewer people.

    Getting back to the question regarding the letter to the Magistrates' court; i.e., "It is apparent with the increase in the actual time spent in the preparation work, the time spent in court and with customers...."

    Six months later after several prompts, Reigate and Banstead Council supplied its answer, which incidentally did not include the information asked for, but gave a general description of what work is carried out (or what should be carried out) in dealing with liability order applications.

    "All our court summonses are manually checked before being posted, this includes checking against our Document Image System and our Revenues Software for each account where a Court Summons has been produced.................continued

  6. PART II

    "....In addition once a Court Summons has been posted our staff deal with all payment arrangements and associated queries. Our average court list will contain over 800 accounts. All our staff can potentially deal with a Summonsed account and my team will each spend approximately 40 hours per month dealing with summonsed accounts"

    It was put back in the council's court that it had not been explained what the increase in time spent was down to. Two months on, it supplied the answer, stating contrary to its earlier logic that the increase in time spent (therefore extra costs), was down to experiencing increased volume of summons & liability orders in comparison to a previous year.

    "At the time the letter in question was sent (March 2009) we had just experienced a 7% increase in the number of summons & liability orders issued in 2008/09 compared to 2007/08.

    As a result the time spent in preparation work increased accordingly.

    So there it is, even before checking the figures, the council inadvertently dropped itself in it by wanting to have its cake whilst at the same time eating it. Whilst justifying higher costs per individual in NNDR applications it considered this to be down to fewer numbers incurring them. On the other hand, when applying to the Magistrates' court for an increase in costs, it justified this by the claim that higher court applications were being experienced.

    On looking at the figures though, as the reply stated, liability orders had increased by 7%, however, the number of summons had increased by 50%. The interesting thing is in regards the other letter to the court applying for an increase in both Summons and Liability Order costs (29 February 2012) there was a corresponding decrease of around 14% in respect of both penalties. According to Reigate and Banstead Council's logic they should have been informing Redhill Magistrates Court that they wished to reduce its court summons and liability order costs. This of course didn't happen and the generic letter was in use again, i.e., "It is apparent with the increase in the actual time spent in the preparation work, the time spent in court and with customers...."

    Even for someone having no understanding of what's involved – Magistrates' for example – the ploy should have been doomed for failure. It would take some front to tell a customer it made sense that 10 items cost £1 each but if they wanted 15 of them that would be £20 please. It doesn't work that way at the shops I go to.

    Following is a more realistic estimate, using data before the 2009 increase in summons cost as a base. Although very unlikely, we will assume the figures were an accurate reflection of costs incurred.

    In 2007-08 the summons incurred by each individual was £40, so costs raised according to the recorded 3,617 issued would be £144,680.

    £40 will have been picked at random by the authority therefore bearing no relation to true expenditure, but for demonstration purposes we'll say this was equal to a sum reasonably incurred in producing the summons.

    The following year (that which the estimation was based upon) the summonses increased by 1,807 (50%) to 5,424. We know any costs which need adding in respect of this increase will be limited to those specific to each unit summons, i.e., Magistrates' court's fee (£3), postage, stationary etc., so £6 per summons would be a generous amount to add.

    1,807 extra summonses at £6 = £10,842 to be added to the £144,680 costs raised in 07-08 (£155,522) split between the 5,424 defendants makes a cost per summons of £28.67. So instead of applying to Redhill Magistrates Court wishing to increase its court summons costs by 12.5% it should have been to inform it that the council had experienced a change in the number of summons which require a 28% reduction of the summons costs.

  7. There are a couple of comprehensively detailed accounts of what I assume to be typical at these staged Magistrates' court scams. Both document presumably the author's experience of seperate visits to Grimsby Magistrates' court after taking up its invitation (at the request of North East Lincolnshire council) to attend the council tax liability order hearing.

    "Councils stage mock court action – scamming millions of pounds each year from struggling householders in pursuit of coercing Council Tax payment"

    The first of the accounts points out that 3,359 Summonses were sent out for same court hearing whilst 2,602 of those incurred the £70 Summons cost.

    Income generated from householders incurring these costs is put at £182k split in a ratio of around 22:1 in the councils favour:

    • North East Lincolnshire Council £174,334

    • Her Majesty's Court Service £7,806

    And, because only 2 of the 3,359 summoned residents had a court hearings, the half hour's Magistrates' time meant the court was on an hourly rate of £15,612

    The second account details how the bench chairman appeared to use the threat of contempt of court, implying he would overlook this if in turn the defendant accepted the corrupt baseless decision.

    This account would appear to be the beginning of a High Court challenge which is all documented no this thread here from when the first threat letter was sent by the council.

  8. Anyone having the recent document produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government may want to look at the amended version.

    The document entitled "Guidance to local councils on good practice in the collection of Council Tax arrears", has, for anyone wanting to challenge the reasonableness of summons costs, an important addition at paragraph 3.4

    3.4 Local Authorities are reminded that they are only permitted to charge reasonable costs for the court summons and liability order. In the interests of transparency, Local Authorities should be able to provide a breakdown, on request, showing how these costs are calculated. 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."

    One of the rare occasions where a FoI request served some useful purpose.

  9. Keep it coming!!! And thank you!

  10. To see this corruption in action, take a look at the story in the Haringey Independent about the retired Vicar making a stand against the £125 inflated summons costs imposed by Haringey council. Hundreds of thousands more of the most disadvantaged householders are being forced into paying into this racket as a consequence of recent benefit cuts.

    He aimed to have Magistrates reduce (for all residents) the £125 claimed by Haringey Borough Council in costs nearer to the £3 fee it pays to the Court on application for each Liability Order.

    It seems the bench chairman had his script and awarded the full extortionate £125 costs, despite the Council not providing supporting evidence that it had incurred such expenditure and would have no way of doing so if asked.

    An interesting document exists for any Haringey Borough resident wishing to challenge the lawfulness of these "Court Costs". In its 2004 Audit and Finance Scrutiny Panel Review of Income Collection the council has conveniently handed it on a plate by admitting in that report that they manipulate costs for the purpose of coercing payment, not for the purpose the law states, which is to cover costs reasonably incurred.

    "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.

    Recommendation B2. “Court Costs

    That the Benefits and Local Taxation Service ensure the maximum amount possible is charged for Court Costs and to review the charge at regular intervals subject to any guidance/legislation governing Court Costs. "

  11. Council Tax prosecutions hit new high as benefit reforms take hold

    Controversial reforms to the benefit system have highlighted, inadvertently of course, local authorities inappropriately generating income from enforcing council tax to meet expenditure in its general administration.

    It comes in the light of the High Court ruling against Barnet Borough Council which had budgeted for a surplus of income from residential parking schemes to be used to meet other transport expenditure. There are similarities between this and how councils use income generated from court penalties to pay for administering Council Tax.

    A recent decision by Solihull Borough Council had been to increase court costs for householders struggling to meet Council Tax payments. The West Midland's Council admitted to income from court costs going "directly to the council and is used to support the costs of collection of Council Tax". Reasons for recommending the increase – the report to the Council's leader explained – had been that there would be additional income for this purpose. Coincidentally, in terms of disposable income (disregarding oddments) the revised penalty equalled the weekly allowance to which a jobseeker aged 25 or older is entitled (£71.70).

    The City of Westminster Council took its admission a stage further by openly stating in the financial summary to a cabinet report that it was "estimated that the proposed increase in court costs [would] generate approximately £320,000 additional revenue in a full financial year" which was £200,000 in excess of the annual budget.

    The approach varies on a theme, for example some authorities view setting the penalty at a level that not only enables funding other services, but serves to influence behaviour as Haringey clarified in its scrutiny panel review of income collection – "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".

    Coming into force earlier this year, regulations including changes to the way Council Tax benefit is administered and the under-occupancy penalty (the 'bedroom tax') have predictably seen numbers unable to meet council tax payments escalate, leaving councils little option than to seek court orders to enforce payment, adding court costs and often bailiff fees to the debt.

    Already the subject of multiple applications for judicial review, the 'bedroom tax' reduces housing benefit if a rented dwelling is considered under occupied. Entitlement is cut by 14% for Council or housing association tenants with one extra bedroom, if two or more are spare, this rises to 25%. Add to this claimants previously exempt from paying Council Tax will now in most cases pay between 5 and 30% – a measure taken to combat central government reducing available budgets by 10%, implemented simultaneously to responsibility being shifted to local authorities to set their own criteria for assessing claims....

  12. ....Both described benefits have already been subjected to means testing and deemed by the government to be the minimum amount necessary to get by frugally, but new reform measures are taking benefits below that level. Hardly surprising then are reports of prosecutions soaring for non-payment of council tax with Magistrates' courts unable to cope with extra demands.

    What this highlights, is that already disproportionately high court applications for non-payment of council tax are increasing to unprecedented levels and if Magistrates continue awarding unrevised costs in respect of each individual, local authorities will almost certainly be benefiting from inappropriate profit. With this in mind, it's feasible an appeal would have merit if put before the High Court with similar grounds of appeal to the case in which Barnet Council were ruled to have raised revenue by improperly operating parking schemes.

    Data obtained from Leeds City Council reveals that despite the reforms drastically increasing prosecutions, the authority continued applying £70 costs for each account summonsed with further £20 on the court granting an order. In terms of income, according to figures disclosed, costs raised between July and September in 2012, compare with the same period in 2013 at £0.76 million and £1.263 million respectively. If like the law dictates, costs were in line with expenditure "reasonably incurred" before benefit changes, then the majority of the revenue raised above this must be considered improper gains if the half million pounds surplus goes to fund Council Tax administration.

    In the same vein, corresponding data was obtained from North East Lincolnshire Council, though unlike Leeds which charge summons and liability order costs in line with the law, only a single inflated penalty is impose. In a 2011 review, NELC made the decision to front load liability order costs to the summons having the overnight effect of increasing the penalty by 120%. It appeared the council had been given free rein by the Magistrates' court to set its own levels which when applied for at the hearing would be granted by the bench with no questions.

    Similarly to Leeds, NELC continued applying the same costs on issuing summonses. Presumably because of differences in administration, the effects of the reforms were apparent sooner so the comparison made between the two years for the months May to August. In 2012, costs raised in that period were a third of a million pounds, whilst for the same months subsequent to the reforms the figure increased by 67% to over half a million.

    Measures to increase revenue through court cost were taken before the reform's effects which like Leeds, have added substantially to NELC costs raised because of the staggering volume of new business put through court. If applications maintain a level 67% higher than before reforms, the projected costs raised over a year would be £1.36 million, which compares with before the 2011 review at £0.575m. Viewed another way, the council must have satisfied the court that it had incurred 137% more expenditure, with the bench awarding these levels without so much as flinching....

  13. ....Magistrates' courts must be held to account for allowing the situation because although councils may notify the court of the costs they will apply for, it doesn't mean they're agreed in advance. When making an order for costs, the court must be satisfied that the sum it orders has been reasonably incurred by the council. Notifying the Court merely makes it aware of the level of costs that the Council would request at the hearing. The power therefore, as to whether costs are awarded and to the level, is always the Courts.

    Assuming, before benefit reforms, costs truly reflected expenditure reasonably incurred by the two authorities, these would need revising to much lower levels in order to: a) be within the law with regards council tax regulations; and: b) ensure a surplus was not being used to fund the collection of Council Tax. Balancing increased revenue by offsetting a realistic amount of additional costs; calculations returned for Leeds a combined Summons and Liability Order penalty of £56 where currently this is £90, whilst NELC's £70 single cost would need trimming by 37% to around £44.

    This of course is speculating that no surplus existed before. The need for guesswork would be lessened if like the Government advises, Local Authorities were to provide breakdowns showing how their costs are calculated.

    This would prove difficult largely because they attribute substantial expenditure to monitoring accounts in the run up to issuing summonses. The process is automated so any correspondence the defendant receives in connection with the authority's application to the Magistrates' court will have been generated entirely as a consequence of parameters set on the council tax software package.

    North East Lincolnshire Council states it has a £10 minimum amount that customers will be summonsed for because a parameter is set for that amount in its council tax system. Evidence that the procedure is automated is supported in the response to a freedom of information request which revealed NELC issued 82 court orders for debt of less than £10 between 2006 and 2011 including 45 for debt less than £5 and three for just one penny.

    Reference to parking appeal: Attfield, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Barnet [2013] EWHC 2089 (Admin) (22 July 2013)