Wednesday, 19 June 2013

My case against South Gloucestershire Council

My case against South Gloucestershire Council (SGC)
On the 19th July 2012, North Avon Magistrates Court issued a liability order against me in respect of unpaid council tax and costs amounting to £1178.65.  - The actual amount of council tax owed.

 • On 19/7/2012 I received a letter by post from Rundles issuing notice of intended proceedings. There is no basis in law for this to be chargeable.

• On the 1/11/12, a ginger haired man called at my door with a hastily scribbled proforma demanding that I pay £1371.15. This was the first contact I had with Rundles in person.

As you can see there is an instant mark up of £192.50.

The law states that for the first visit they may charge a maximum of £24.50 and £18.00  for the second as detailed in the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992.

As is my right, I refused payment and I queried the council as to the excessive fees.  They replied...

Dear Mr North,

I write regarding your email claiming the bailiffs have charged you in excess of £190.00 for the first visit fee.  As you have been advised before (see my email dated 11/01/13) the bailiffs charged you as detailed below:

1st Visit fee £24.50 on 22nd October 2012
2nd visit fee £18.00 on 25th October 2012
Attendance with intention to remove goods £150.00 on 1st November 2012.

When the bailiff attended your property on the 1st November you still owed £425.44 plus costs which included the van fees which were added correctly to the balance already owed. You made a payment direct to the Council on that day of £250.00 leaving a balance due of £175.44 plus bailiff costs.

If you had contacted the bailiff and made an arrangement to pay when they first contacted, you would not have had to pay van fees. The Council does not estimate any fraudulent fees have been made by the bailiff companies.
The Liability Order was granted at the Magistrate Court on 19th July 2012, you made no attempt to make any payments until the case was passed to Rundle & Company. Again, I would suggest you make full payment to the bailiff to clear the balance of £280.50

Yours sincerely,

Mrs D A Hooper
Senior Recovery Officer
So here we have an assertion that two visits had been made prior to the actual first visit had been made, which was news to me.  I was not at home, thus these visits were "phantom visits".  In 2007, in an answer to the House of Lords, Baroness Scotland (for the Government) explained that charging for phantom attendances was a criminal offence under the Fraud Act. In a similar incident, West Yorkshire police press office also confirmed that not only is it a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Fraud Act, they also state that “anyone involved in this practice could also face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud”. Just recently the Department for Communities and Local Government has published guidelines on this just recently, in which it states...
5.7      Public concern has been raised about the practice of some bailiffs undertaking ‘phantom visits’ – charging fees for action when no action was actually taken.

5.8      The Government consider that any fraudulent practices should be reported to the police as a criminal offence under the Fraud Act and that Local Authorities should terminate any contract with companies whose activities are proved fraudulent.

So of course this become my word against theirs.  Or does it?  The story continues...

On the 16/11/12, Two different male bailiffs arrived, blocking my drive with a van. I locked up the house and waited in the car but they were blocking my exit until my landlord moved his van and I could manoeuvre out. The bailiffs then attempted to ram me as I was leaving to prevent my exit. I remained parked near my house until they left.  It was a stand-off for about 20 minutes until they left. It is on this date, they claim to have levied my vehicle. They issued no documentation, such as a possession order, to that effect. They left another hastily scribbled proforma demanding that I pay £1371.15. After which I paid the remaining of the original balance of the liability order to the council via their website.

On 30/11/12, Rundles, anonymously (and without knocking), left yet another hastily scribbled proforma demanding that I pay only £250, acknowledging the debt was paid.

On 11/12/12 I awoke mid-morning to discover my vehicle had been clamped, with a similar note posted through my letterbox, this time demanding the sum of £310. I hired an angle grinder to cut through the padlock so as not to damage the clamp. I then emailed the bailiff company stating that they may recover their clamp provided they demonstrate proof of ownership and reimbursed the costs of removal. They did not attend.  They had attempted a levy, not on the council tax, but on their fees alone.

None of the above paragraph is strictly relevant but it brought about criminal prosecution against me for the removal of the clamp, which is still ongoing.  However, in their signed statement to the police, Jo Spring of Rundle and Co. freely admits that I was not at home on the dates of the first two visits.  Thus the first two visits are not by any means chargeable, and thus their levy is invalid. 

The dates mentioned in her statement are consistent with those claimed by South Gloucestershire Council but in her statement, she acknowledges there was no reply on both occasions.  These are non-chargeable visits, which invalidates the "attendance fees" as the 1/11/12 was the first actual chargeable visit.  This is fraud plain and simple.   

I replied to Mrs Hooper of the SGC...
Dear Mrs Hooper,

Rundles first visit charged well in excess of the fees permissible by law - to the tune of over £190 . The FIRST letter they left is proof of this - and I am happy to provide you with a scanned copy. No visits were made prior to this. Attending the property in my absence is not chargeable. In 2007, in answer to a specific question about this practice in the Lords, Baroness Scotland for the Government explained that charging for phantom attendances was a criminal offence under the Fraud Act. West Yorkshire police press office have also confirmed that not only is it a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Fraud Act for bailiffs to say they had visited an address (when they had merely pushed a letter through the door), but that “anyone involved in this practice could also face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud”.

They are also not permitted to charge fees in advance. Attempts to pursue these fees is charging for work not done - and is defined as Advance Fee Fraud. There has been an LGO ruling on this. You will note that Paragraph 62 of Complaint numbers 95A01890 and 95A04826 against London Borough of Ealing the Local Government Ombudsman disallowed a van fee because no goods had been levied. These fees were also disallowed in the Local Government Ombudsman's report of 29 November 2012. See also Page 5 of 11 of the Local Government Ombudsman report of 29 November 2012. In short, bailiffs may only charge levy and van fees if a levy is made.

No goods have been levied, they have no possession order and their attempts to charge are unlawful. Your willful refusal to correct this makes you personally complicit in this fraud. As you are the senior officer in this matter, it could well be viewed as corruption - since you are deliberately seeking to mislead. At the very least, that makes you an liar or just plain incompetent, at worst, it makes you complicit in a multi-million pound fraud.

Yours sincerely,

Peter North.

She replies...
Dear Mr North,

The fees the bailiff has charged are all legal. You will also see on Schedule 5 that for attendance with a vehicle with a view to remove goods, the bailiff can charge “reasonable costs and fees incurred” which they have done.

On 1st November 2012 the bailiff attended your property with the intention of removing goods, it was not until this same day did you make a payment of £250.00 direct to the Council, the charges were already incurred and are still payable.

Every time the bailiff called you made a payment and only paid when we got the bailiff involved.

The bailiffs will not pay you for “your” expenses, as you broke the law in removing the clamp in the first place, which I understand the police have since advised that you have committed a criminal offence in doing so.

As I said before, please contact the bailiffs to make payment and for any further discussions regarding this account.

Yours sincerely

Dorothy Hooper
Senior Recovery Officer

According to the law, as the visit on 1st November 2012 was the first chargeable visit, they had no right to make a levy or charge more than £24.50, and the attempted levy (clamping) of my car was made after the balance had been cleared, even though they knew this full well.  These thugs were simply trying to extort unlawful fees.

Several email exchanges have occurred since this, and SGC have repeatedly refused to address the issue and not only that, they have washed their hands of the complaint and forwarded my complaint against the council to the bailiff company instead which is a breach of confidence in my view.  My complaint was regarding the misconduct of the council in not calling the bailiffs off.  My complaint against Rundle and Co. will be dealt with separately in court.

I have given SGC every opportunity to address this issue yet they have wilfully ignored Local Government Ombudsman rulings, and the law, and refused to investigate properly while maintaining that I should pay unlawful fees.  It is for this reason I am taking SGC to court and will not let the matter rest.  


  1. This FoI response from SGC in regards van/attendance fees may be of interest.

    South Gloucestershire Council was asked how many council tax cases were sent to bailiffs for enforcement which incurred the van/attendance fee in circumstances where no prior levy was in place and in respect of the same visit a bailiff levied goods.

    The response was NONE in both cases:

    "No Van fee unless a levy is already in place"

  2. They'll have to pay all of the money back one day.
    A whistleblower has been fighting for years to get fees paid to HSBC customers who were unfairly overcharged. He won his case this week.

    Rundles are in a bad position now, there are some powerful organisatiins watching them and the council.