Thursday, 1 August 2013

What does it take?

Well it seems I have rattled a few cages.  After the last exchange with the plod, it now seems an investigation is warranted.  I suspect it to be a box ticking exercise, but I shall withhold my cynicism for now.  I won't publish the original email from the plod because the extrapolations in my reply below gives you a fair idea of what they said.  This is about to get interesting.
Dear DI Stainer,
Thank you for your email.  Unfortunately for both of us, I have a few points to make, and for transparency, I have copied in my barrister.
You highlight from the explanatory notes of the Protection of Freedoms Act: "In addition, bailiffs have a mix of statutory and common law powers to immobilise and tow away vehicles for the purposes of enforcing debts (including those arising out of unpaid taxes and court fines)"
You have not identified which statutory and common law powers those are.  Clamping rights largely pertain to parking and traffic enforcement - and council tax recovery is an entirely separate strata of law.  Unless you know different, there is no basis in law that permits clamping in relation to council tax enforcement - especially in pursuit of bailiff fees after the debt to the council was settled.  The explanatory notes do not explicitly grant lawful authority in relation to council tax enforcement.  Common law only provides for a car to be levied and a walking possession agreement to be made.  They did not have lawful authority to clamp.  Additionally, if a bailiff leaves a premises without taking the seized goods or vehicle (or leaves a wheel clamp on the vehicle unattended), the levy becomes what is called, an abandoned levy, thus I was entirely within my rights to remove it and they have committed an offence.
Furthermore, when you say "I have reviewed the legislation that you have provided under the Council Tax (administration and Enforcement) regulation 1992, and the Government guidance on enforcement. This states that a reasonable fee can be applied for making a visit to premises with a view to levying distress (whether the levy is made or not)”.  I am familiar with that particular law.  It's as clear as mud due to the extended amendments and supplementary fee schedules.  You are quoting the obsolete part of the law.  The law has since been amended:

In Schedule 5 (charges connected with distress)—
(a)in column (2) of the Table in paragraph 1—
(i)in the row corresponding to head A(i) of column (1), for “£22.50” substitute “£24.50”,
(ii)in the row corresponding to head A(ii) of column (1), for “£16.50” substitute “£18.00”,
To save you the bother, and you can verify this on ANY bailiff advice website you like; a bailiff may only charge £24.50 for the first visit and £18 for the second.  Further fees can only consist of levy fees - "reasonable costs and fees incurred": to which there is no "reasonable" basis for an extra fee of £150 when no levy has been made.  It is also a conveniently round number wouldn't you say?

Furthermore, paragraph 62 of Complaint numbers 95A01890 and 95A04826 against London Borough of Ealing the Local Government Ombudsman disallowed such fees because no goods had been levied. These fees were also disallowed in the Local Government Ombudsman's report of 29 November 2012. It is akin with charging for work not done and thus is fraud by false representation.  At the time of meeting their first bailiff, no goods had been levied, thus there was no basis in law for a levy fee.  THAT is fraud.
Assuming you could find a justification in law for such fees it is STILL redundant on the basis that the debt was paid just after the second PROVABLE visit.  There is no proof whatsoever that the bailiffs visited on the 22nd October or the 25th October.  All we have is the statement by Nicola Spring that she visited but she states there was no-one home - so we only have her word for it that visits were actually made.  Besides which, In their case log, they state on the 23rd Oct 2012:...

"Visit fee(s): 24.50. door: white. Lock: Yale. Desc: Semi-detached.  The bailiff called to the property, no reply.  Letter left." 

There is no letter of any kind, nor is my lock a Yale lock and the description of the property does not take into account that mine is a top floor flat of a semi-detached.  I suspect all they did was send out a runner to the house to make basic observations; a fairly typical bailiff tactic.  You will also note from their notes that they "levied" on 19/11/12 - so how is it that they could charge levy fees at any point prior to this date?

You ask that I prove they did not visit on the first two alleged dates, which is not possible - but given the evidence at hand, there is no evidence they did.  The only visits we can verify are those both parties admit to.  The only visits that can be legitimately verified were on 1/11/12 and 16/11/12 - to which both parties agree.  The letter posted on 1/11/12 had an immediate mark-up of £192.50 (prior to the levy date in their records) - which is not in any way lawful for a first visit, and I can bore you at length with multiple government sources that says so if needs be.  Trust me, I'm more bored by this than you are because I've had to write this a dozen times since January to get the police to investigate.  Because the debt was paid immediately after the second provable visit, the maximum they could charge is £42.50 and would I have paid it had they billed me for that amount.  But there is no way in hell I am going to give way to fraud.
Lastly, and please forgive the clumsy formatting of this email (I'm hating writing it as much as you are reading it) -but to quote your email...

"The Government guidance that you provided set out the power that the bailiffs work under and make it clear that the responsibility is that of the Local Authority. Any complaints that are to be made regarding fee’s should be made to the Council in the first instance who have a duty to investigate this properly. As a result of their investigation if there is evidence of unlawful attendance fee’s then we will view their findings and consider taking action under the Fraud Act as outlined by 5.8 of the guidance which you highlighted.  I will therefore ensure that an officer makes contact with South Gloucestershire to review their investigation in relation to the fee’s charged to establish whether they have breached the legislation and whether there is a case to answer. Also if you are able to provide us with evidence that a visit did not take place then this is something that we can look into."
I have already outlined the basis of the phantom visits.  As to South Glos. Council, I don't expect you will get very far with that in that they are up to their necks in it as well, since they upheld the fees for the "phantom visits" without even examining the evidence I presented to them.  The relationship between South Gloucestershire Council and Rundles is a little too cosy for my liking.  Rather than addressing my complaint about their contractors, as is their obligation, they merely forwarded my complaint to the bailiffs who issued a press release style reply.  In short, SGC did not conduct an investigation at all.  All I got was a cursory reply from a recovery officer a few moments after my original complaint.  It is not for a junior recovery officer to adjudicate on matters of law.  That is for the police and for the courts.  The council will spin the same garbage they told me - and your investigation would be sloppy if you merely took their word for it.  - And if you do, I will visit consequences up Avon & Somerset Police should I find even the slightest irregularity in your investigation. It sounds as though you are willing to accept anything the council says as an unassailable truth, when they are essentially complicit in this fraud themselves.

During the trial regarding the clamp removal, I pressed both witnesses from Rundles to supply EXACT copies of the letters posted through my door, but they were unable to do so since they only use a standard proforma and hastily scribble in biro (at the door) an amount they think they can justify using industry sophistry - without even recording the amounts they charge.  When your investigator visits, I will be able to demonstrate this since I am the only holder of this particular evidence.  This is why I am been so adamant that you investigate because hitherto this exchange, no police officer has examined the evidence.
Meanwhile, I would like to thank you for your efforts so far.  It has been an uphill battle over many months to get the police to take this seriously and I look forward to the conclusion of this matter.  It is long past the time these predatory bandits were held to account for their misdeeds.
Yours sincerely,

Peter North.

1 comment:

  1. "At the time of meeting their first bailiff, no goods had been levied, thus there was no basis in law for a levy fee. THAT is fraud."

    I believe this evidence, sent to Humberside Police's Economic Crime Unit, on page 4 contradicts what occurred in your circumstances:

    "It’s worth noting that there may be a number of councils opting to take tighter control over their contractors as indicated by South Gloucestershire Council. That authority, although charging the attendance fee 401 times over the four years has stated that "No Van fee" is charged unless a levy is already in place. If what they have stated is implemented then they’re playing by the book, however, this goes against what has been disclosed in the data supplied by the three sample authorities."

    It seems they've not been very thorough with their responses to FOI requests.