Friday, 20 June 2014

South Gloucestershire Council climbdown

Councillor Ben Walker
Readers will recall this from a couple of weeks ago where our favourite council attempted to charge "costs" of £85 for 9p in council tax arrears. Well it so happens that an email making mention of this was sent yesterday by Ukip Councillor Ben Walker, to the BBC, the council chief executive and a selection of other council members.

Coincidentally, this morning, I received an email from SGC recovery officer Ms D Hooper (she who denies bailiff fraud without investigation) saying "I have on this occasion only, cancelled the costs incurred".

I'm a little disappointed. I was prepared to take this as far as the courts because I do wonder what a judge would make of this council's intemperate greed. It is not then surprising that SGC have climbed down. They don't need this in the media as this "costs" scam is a nice little earner.

A recent Freedom of Information request reveals that South Gloucestershire Council netted £412,22 last year in "costs" from council tax Liability Orders. Of the £85, the courts take their cut of the profits, but the council charges £55 for the act of sending a letter. 7,495 of them last year. The law allows only for "reasonable costs", but councils clearly disregard this and use arrears as a source of revenue. Further to this, it has also collected nearly £10k in credit card surcharges on those same payments.

It is little wonder then that new figures have revealed that between January and March, one in five people reporting debt problems to Citizens Advice were presenting council tax arrears issues. In the first three months of this year 27,000 people with a council tax arrears problem got help from Citizens Advice – a 17% increase on the same period last year. Councils are causing more debt problems than pay-day loan companies. Our own council is creating debt problems and dumping them on the private sector, the courts and debt charities without taking responsibility for the mess they are making.

I make special note of Ms Hooper's words in that she has "on this occasion only" dropped the charges. So I do not see this as a victory. It still means South Gloucestershire Council is willfully ripping off the less well off, having now demonstrated they do have the authority to quash them, or better still - cease to be engaged in this grand larceny in the first place.

It should be noted that this issue has been raised with our local Labour councillors (for three years in a row) and not a single one of them ever replied. Councillor Walker on the other hand seems to be a man who gets things done. Hopefully he will be instrumental in bringing this grubby little scam to an end.