Council tax liability orders are being enforced on late/non council tax payers every year, all over England. Rossendale Borough Council (RBC), estimate to issue 6072 summons in 2016/2017 alone.
Each liability order summons, comes with a £95 court costs charge.
If all these charges are collected, this will result in a total amount of £576,840 being paid to Rossendale Borough Council.
So how are these court costs arrived at?
RBC block book the magistrates' court in Burnley and they pass through as many as they can each block booking day.
To prove their costs are legitimate, the council present the Clerk of Justice with a run down of the running costs for recovery of unpaid council tax.
Here's the breakdown of costs they presented to Burnley magistrates' court;
- System administration costs £23,741
- Recovery section £215,082
- Billing and benefits teams £49,652
- Contact centre costs £82,425
- Customer services £26,729
- Accountancy and service assurance team £7,648
- Northgate licensing and maintenance £67,567
- System administration costs £3,960
- Telephone system £4,567
- Anite system £3,000
Printing and postage costs:
- Stationary costs £84,825
- Production of pre-summons reports, complaint reports and liability order reports £23,741
Magistrates court costs:
- Administration and payment of invoices £435
- Court fees (based on estimated 6072 cases) £18,216
- Cash receipting payments £415
Total recovery costs: £612,010
Esimated summons number based on previous years: 6072
Total per case: £100
Our council tax for the year 2016/17 was paid in full by February 2017.
I appeared in court to defend against the £95 court costs charge, here's what happened.
Rossendale borough council's representative, admitted under oath the following to the magistrate;
* The cost of my liability order going through the magistrates court was just £3.
* Regulation of 34 of the Council Tax (Administration & Enforcement) Regulations 1992) allows for costs to be charged (if reasonably incurred by the applicant in obtaining THE order). The council submitted this as a note with their list of costs on application.
RBC's officer admitted that the costs list presented to the court represented the council's costs for all of their recovery of council tax (paid on time/late/non payment) - the legislation the court uses, permits only costs to be awarded in "Obtaining the order" and not for the entire recovery process or any individual part of it.
* RBC's officer admitted that the council did not have a breakdown of costs for my case to present to the court. Therefore RBC could not prove that "costs were reasonable and genuine" as they must do, to furnish the magistrate with the facts to discharge their duty.
* The costs list submitted by the council, were an audit for the financial year 2015/16, over a year out of date. The officer did not know of any new procedures or reduced costs that had been made between the time the audit was done and the present day.
This shows that the council's costs list could not be taken by the magistrates to be accurate?
* RBC's officer accepted under oath, that in our case, we had not used several of the departments listed on the costs list, at any point in time over the last financial year.
* RBC's officer admitted under oath, that those department and systems being claimed for on the council's court costs sheet, were in fact not just for the collection of all (let alone recovery from late/non payers) of council tax in a financial year, but also for collection of business rates, rents, non domestic rates, etc.
* RBC's officer admitted that there was "double accounting" in the council's court costs submitted to the magistrate, as every council tax payer was paying for the council's departments/call centres/systems/maintenance contracts/licenses, etc. at the same time as the council were claiming all of the estimated 6072 liability order applications incurring court costs through the magistrates court, were legitimately being claimed for.
* RBC's officer admitted that the council's court costs claim submitted for costs under regulation 34(7) where council tax and costs were outstanding, did not apply in my case, as all council tax had been paid before the court date, so regulation 34(8) was applicable.
* RBC's officer admitted under oath that there were some of the estimated 6072 cases being charged court costs by the council, that have/would have the court costs waived. The officer couldn't instruct the court regarding how many of these
* RBC's officer admitted under oath, that court costs were waived for some cases where there were amounts owed for council tax, where the accounts fell under those people with "low incomes" but he could not tell the court how many cases this would be applicable to.
* RBC's officer had put in writing and admitted under oath, that part of the court costs were set to penalise late/non payers of council tax, to deter people from late/non payment of council tax.
- The magistrate did not want to see this written evidence (from RBC's recovery officer)
- I quoted the case of judicial review (therefore legal precedent), R v Highgate Justices 1954, whereby it was ruled that "Court costs should not exceed the proper costs incurred and should not be a penalty"
* RBC's officer did not know how many liability orders were charged the £95 costs by the council, where the costs were not challenged by the individual account holder and no review was presented before the court, as listed in the council's court costs submittance to the court.
The magistrates' court secretary, quoted from a book of laws, along with the footnotes for guidance, to be used in this case.
Both RBC's officer and myself were sent out of court to study these prior to making representations before the judge.
In these footnotes, the case of R (on the application of the Reverend Nicholson) v Tottenham Magistrates  and the findings and observations of Judge Andrews J are summarised for guidance for the court;
"For the court to be satisfied that the costs were reasonably incurred, it is insufficient for the court to rely on general and vague assertions with no supporting particulars. The focus must not be on whether the costs claimed was a reasonable amount, but whether those costs were reasonably incurred obtaining the liability order.
It will be impermissible to include in the costs claimed, to the overall administration of council tax in the area concerned."
The footnotes also quote from the case of (R v Bristol City Magistrates Court, ex p Willsman (1991))
"Regulation 34(7) [which RBC were claiming costs for] means that the court must be satisfied;
(i) The Local Authority has actually incurred those costs;
(ii) that the costs in question were incurred in obtaining the liability order;
"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.
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."
After all the admissions under oath by Rossendale Borough Council's officer, I hoped the magistrate would take them into account. They did not.
In summing up, the Judge informed me that the court's hands were tied on this issue, there was little room for manouvre for them.
We all have a responsibility to pay our council tax and on time, while we sympathise with your case, I find in favour of the claimant.
So after completely discrediting the council's costs argument, the lack of factual basis for their submissions and quoting legal precedent, about court costs not to be used as a penalty, the Judge preferred instead to ignore all that and agree with RBC's officer that "we haven't raised court cost levels for four years and it would be too expensive to produce and individual case breakdown for the court"
(Even though they claimed in their costs submission that part of the court costs they were claiming was for liability order reports and case by case reviews to present before the court!)
Where do I go from here?
I have no idea.
It cannot be right that court costs being claimed by Rossendale Borough Council are paying for departments/systems/administration for not only council tax, but rents, non domestic rates, etc. The same departments that are also paid for from the council's normal budget funded via everyones' council tax bills.
Regulation 34 (and all paragraphs thereof) at no point state that a council is allowed to claim costs for "recovery" of late/non paid council tax, it does however state that costs must reflect the cost of obtaining THE liability order, not for all of the 6072 estimated to be needed in a given year.
The Magistrates court system is there to give a fair hearing to everybody.
It should not take a judicial review and thousands of pounds in costs to get a fair hearing.
This is happening all over England, what are your councillors, MPs doing about it?
Santander complaints staff are making false accounts of customer calls which escalate to a formal complaint, just in case the complaint is referred to the financial ombudsman.
Here's what santander claim was discussed;
* You were unhappy with bank charges incurred
* You stated that you had informed us not to let any direct debit to process if funds weren't available in your account
* You were unhappy that santander had paid a direct debit which caused you to go overdrawn and incur further fees
* You feel that by doing this, santander have acted illegally and fraudulently.
Some details missing so far, here's santander's reply;
What we have done to fix the issue.
- As discussed, customers have a responsibility to manage their account and ensure funds are available when bills are due
* What was actually asked was why santander had failed to operate the account to the customer's instruction (15 months earlier), whereby santander were told NOT to pay any direct debit or standing order, if no funds were available in the account?
Santander staff replied that "our system cannot follow this instruction, it is not possible"
Santander staff looked back to previous charges applied to the account, over a year earlier, could find no record of the customer's instruction not to pay direct debits if no funds in the account! (So now there is evidence that santander staff are not recording calls accurately, which is an offence under the Data Protection Act)
* So how can the customer manage their account if santander are ignoring the customer's express wishes?
No answer from santander staff.
* Why then did santander have two charges, one for "non payment of direct debit when no funds were in account" and another for "paying a direct debit when no funds were in account"?
Santander staff claimed that "this was because the system will pay some direct debits and not others. For example, if a direct debit comes in for £800 and no funds are in the account then the system won't pay it."
* So what is the cut off limit for paying direct debits, ie, how much does the direct debit have to be before it becomes a non payment of a direct debit charge?
Santander staff "Don't know"
I then pointed out, that the santander "system" is set up to manipulate bank accounts to extract maximum profit in charges.
Instead of the "non payment of a direct debit due to no funds in the account" charge, santander had instead paid a direct debit, resulting in a charge, taken the account into "unauthorised overdraft" incurring another charge then increased the daily amount charged for "interest" from £1 per day to £6 per day.
Manipulation for financial or personal gain has a simple term, fraud!
Santander staff said, "No it's not fraud."
* It's not "the system" doing this, it is santander. Santander set up and control/run their own system, they are responsible for their own system and how it operates.
If santander's "system" is manipulating accounts for financial gain, then fraud is carried out by santander. It matters not whether the manipulation of accounts is being done by an individual or santander's "system" the outcome is the same, fraud!
Not one word of this has been recorded or put into the final complaints response by santander staff.
- As discussed, customers have up until 4pm on the day the direct debit processes, to pay funds in to the account.
* No idea where this comes from as it wasn't discussed or stated in the entire conversation.
- I am unable to waive these fees as you have had a number of charge refunds in the past (read: one charge refund over 15 months earlier) however I advised you how to avoid charges in the future.
* Advising me to "make sure funds are in the account before a direct debit goes out" is hardly advice on how to avoid charges is it!
Telling a customer "santander don't have the facility to not pay direct debits at customer's instruction" when under the lenders code, santander actually do have the facility and have to honour their request, just makes santander look completely foolish.
One final insult, I spoke with a member of santander accounts staff, who then passed it on to their team manager.
At the end of the conversation I was asked, "Would you like me to report this as an official complaint?"
What's the use? I asked, ok then go ahead.
The letter sent out comes from santander's "complaints resolution team" which refers to the team leader now as a complaints resolution team, so santander are cutting more corners to speed up complaints process improve their response times for the Financial Conduct Authority audits.
Utterly odious are santander, avoid them if at all possible.
In September 2016, MPs called for "a cap on overdraft fees" - a simple but useless request. (Especially as MPs took powers away from those that had them in the first place!)
Overdraft fees are an unenforceable burden on account holders.
Over 100 years of legal precedent, determines that any fee, charge, etc. can "only recover actual loss incurred" - if actual loss cannot be proven (as banks systems are automated) then the charge cannot be enforced.
It really is that straight forward.
A current account has £10 balance.
A direct debit requests £20 from the bank.
The bank SHOULD return the direct debit unpaid (as not enough funds in the account to cover it)
The bank instead pays the direct debit, putting the account into an "unauthorised overdraft" incurring additional charges.
Santander currently charge £6 per day for an unauthorised overdraft balance.
So if this scenario is applied to a santander current account, where a two day unauthorised overdraft is charged for, santander take £12 from the account holder, for two days of the account being £10 overdrawn.A 20% fee.
There are endless examples of the bank taking £6 per day, from account holders being less than £2 overdrawn.
If an account is overdrawn for 5 days, this equates to £30 for a £2 negative balance.
If there is a bank out there that can prove in court that the "actual loss" for being £2 overdrawn, is a £30 "actual cost," I've yet to see a single example of it.
Banks tell customers that "it's up to the account holder to manage their account" that's all well and good, but when "the system" is applying charges/fees, "the system" is over-ruling account holders and paying direct debits without funds in the account, then the bank are responsible for it.
The bank's system is built, set by, controlled by the bank themselves.
For the bank to blame their own system and staff being unable to explain why some direct debits are paid and some are not, regardless of what the account holder requests, shows the banks to be fraudulently applying fees, to increase profits.
Which official body is asking the banks why they have a charge for non-payment of a direct debit on their "system" - when no one at the bank knows under which conditions their own "system" applies it to generate the charge/fee and the banks continue to pay direct debits and charge extra unauthorised overdraft fees on top?
I repeat again, bank charges are straight forward.
If a charge/fee does not recover "actual loss" then it is unenforceable under common law in England & Wales.
So which official body is enforcing the law? None that I can see.
This includes MPs, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), ombudsmen, etc.
They all spend vast amounts of money doing reports and studies, taking years, yet the outcome is always the same, the customer always pays unenforceable bank charges.
They wonder why so many people are thoroughly hacked off with official bodies, they are toothless talking shops.
It's time for action.
If official bodies fail to act, then they should be closed down and replaced, or the court system should changed to allow free access to challenge them.
Axa car insurance (using the Swift cover insurance company) are unable to explain their own policies.
Had our first ever bump at the weekend.
Car was recovered to a holding centre, claim submitted.
Paying for No Claims Discount (NCD) cover also (£60 per year) which was then dropped to 4 years from 19 years in the policy renewal for the next 12 months.
This has resulted in premiums that have now gone over £160 per month as opposed to the £65 per month previously offered.
Contacting Axa insurance today, some simple questions put to them that they were unable to explain.
* Why has our NCD dropped to just 4 years when we paid for it to be protected?
- This is because two claims are currently open on the policy, a no fault claim from 8 months ago remains open and is going to court (previous discussions resulted in a £10 per month increase while this is ongoing, from £55 to £65 per month) and the bump you had at the weekend.
With two claims open on the policy, this is classed as the second claim, which has resulted in your no claims dropping from 19 years (40% policy discount) to 4 years (28% policy discount).
* If this is really the reason, then the policy should have increased by 12% (which is the difference between 19 years NCD at 40% discount and 4 years NCD at 28% discount an increase of 12%) instead Axa have DOUBLED the price of next years' premium, an increase of 100%, why?
- The advisor then proceeded to go through the rigmarole of how NCD works. I repeated the question, still got no answer.
* Why have axa only supplied a courtesy car for 14 days, when the insurance document states that "while repairs are being carried out we will provide a courtesy car"?
- This is because it is with our salvage team (Copart UK) after suffering substantial damage, with a view to declaring your car a "total loss"
They will check your car to see if it can be repaired and if it is repairable then we will provide a courtesy car while those repairs are carried out.
* I'm not happy with a salvage company that works "with" axa (and auctions off insurance write-offs) being the "experts" that judge whether a car can be repaired or not, as they have a clear financial interest in writing off vehicles.
- no answer
The rest of the conversation was a complete fob-off from axa.
Totally devoid of any answers and passing the buck to their claims team, which is conveniently "closed until tomorrow" and only open limited hours.
What's becoming apparent, is that insurance companies are writing off cars when they can be repaired, as pay out is better than dealing with a repair and providing a courtesy car.
Problem is, it took us ages to find this car and we had to jump through proverbial hoops to get it, this combined with exceptionally genuine low-mileage, makes it well worth keeping.
When booking a caravan with Park holidays, watch out, their sales agents and website are misleading.
They will attempt to "upgrade" you to a "higher standard plus" caravan, don't fall for it!
We upgraded to a "gold plus" and got a caravan that not only was not up to their advertised "bronze standard" but cost us an extra £130 for the privilege!
On sending a complaint with various questions, it took two weeks for a very limited response to arrive via email from their customer service dept. The reply for this remains unanswered (4 days later).
Their reply did reveal some truth though...
Park holidays - Seaview, Kent booking.
Sales agent - "There's a lot more space in our 'plus' range caravans"
Website - Advertises Gold and gold plus caravans, gold plus said to be "12 foot wide"
Customer service says, "When a caravan is listed as plus then it means 12ft wide rather than 10ft wide. We do not have gold standard caravans throughout park holidays only gold plus"
So all Park holiday's gold standard caravans are classed as 'Gold plus'?
Why do park holidays sales staff and website advertise both then?
Why is a gold plus "12 foot wide" when the gold standard is also 12 foot wide and not mentioned?
'Gold standard' caravans do not exist on Park holiday's sites, so why list 'gold standard' on your website and through your sales office?
Lack of storage space:
Sales agent - "There's a lot more space in our 'plus' range caravans"
Website - Advertises 'bronze' caravans with more storage space than the "gold plus" caravan we were given.
Customer service says, "Our newer caravans are more minimalistic so we do tend to find they have less storage but this gives them a cleaner finish"
No draws in the bedrooms, no storage around bed area in the twin room and a tiny wardrobe, but a much "cleaner finish"?
Not much point in a cleaner finish, when you have 4 adults and a child staying in a six berth caravan and nowhere to put your clothes.
When the 'bronze' advertised caravan has better storage than the 'gold plus' caravans being sold as a higher standard, for a higher price, not mentioned at the point of sale, it doesn't look very good Park holidays does it?
Sales agent - "There's a lot more space in our 'plus' range caravans"
Website - Advertises a relatively spacious square bathroom, even in their 'bronze' standard caravans.
Customer service says, "The bathrooms are small in most of our caravans regardless of layout"
Unable to sit the right way on the toilet as your knees touch the wall (adults had to sit sideways on the pan) and a bathroom less than 3 foot across is acceptable for a 'gold plus' caravan is it?
What happened to the "more space in 'gold plus' caravans"?
Why does the website show 'bronze' caravans with more space than the bathroom we got?
Sales agent - "Bed linen is included for 'gold plus' customers"
Website - Advertises bed linen for gold and gold plus customers
Customer services say, "Bed linen is included in Gold plus caravans and it is also included in silver plus caravans"
So it's also included for customers whom book a silver and silver plus caravan?
I wonder why Park holiday's sales staff sell bed linen as a benefit for gold customers upgrading to a gold plus?
Bed making services:
Sales agent - Sold as an extra for 'gold plus' customer upgrades
Website - Advertises bed making services for gold and gold plus customers
Customer service says, "Bed making is not a daily service it is just for arrival"
Not once did your sales agent state that this upgrade bed making service was just for arrival. They also failed to mention that it was available to gold and gold plus customers as standard.
It was sold as a benefit for customers that upgraded to 'gold plus' - clearly misleading at the point of sale.
Was identical to the seating area advertised for the 'bronze' standard
Customer services say nothing about this, they didn't answer the question.
Sales agent - Sold the gold plus upgrade as "includes all your entertainment passes"
Website - Advertises them in all bronze, silver and gold caravans.
Customer service says, "All booking made through park holidays regardless of grade have passes included. They are mainly used for the swimming pool and games"
Not true, the games area of the camp was open to all touring and caravan bookers regardless of an entertainment pass.
Sprog2 made friends with a young lady that was staying on the touring part of the holiday park, who used the pool everyday without the need for an entertainment pass.
Games in the clubhouse were entered by all guests staying on site, none were asked for entertainment passes.
All grades of customer receive entertainment passes, so to sell them as an upgrade for 'gold plus' customers is misleading at the point of sale.
Sales agent - "Most of our gold plus caravans come with a bit of decking and outdoor seating now, while we cannot promise to provide it, we can certainly add a request to the camp for it with your booking. The camp is not fully booked so there's a good chance you will get it"
Customer service says, "We do not provide garden furniture with our caravans, if requested we try to get you in a sublet that may have these but we can not always manage this"
Not only did we get just three rickety steps from the caravan entrance, but the request was not put in to the camp itself.
No outdoor seating nor bit of decking was asked for by the sales agent or provided. So why state that it will be requested?
Sales agent - "Free wifi is available at the camp"
Website - Advertises, "...and surfing the web are some of the many things you can enjoy on the park"
"Free wifi on site"
Customer services say nothing about this, they didn't answer the question.
The free wifi is useless as it does not work. It never worked the entire week long stay.
The free wifi trial offer, said to be provided by a private outside company and was complimentary didn't work either.
Connection to it was very much hit and miss. In the unlikely event you connected, the server dropped the connection and then you have to try reconnecting again. Totally pointless.
So to use this as a selling point for the park is a joke.
Customer services didn't even acknowledge the question let alone answer it.
Sales agent - "There's a lot more space in our 'plus' range caravans"
Website - Advertises a square, self contained kitchen for gold and gold plus caravans
Customer service says nothing about it. Not interested.
There are two types of kitchen area advertised by sales agents and on their website.
Bronze and silver show a walk through type kitchen between the outside door and the seating area.
Gold and gold plus show a full caravan width self contained kitchen area, seperate from seating area and walk through from the outside door.
The kitchen area in our gold plus caravan was identical to the 'bronze' kitchen described by the sales agent and shown clearly on their website.
Customer services neglected to even acknowledge the question, let alone answer it.
So much for the sales agent claim of "more space for gold plus upgrades"
I have also asked about Park holidays' website claims about local attractions and discounts/deals.
Park holidays' claim, "many local attractions offering exclusive deals for Park Holidays UK guests, you’ll find plenty of purse-friendly days out to keep everyone happy"
Really Park holidays?
During our stay we visited the following attractions;
Hornby visitors centre
Charles Dickens house
Spitfire museum Manston
The plough public house – for a meal (directly across from the entrance to seaview)
Dogs trust open day (Canterbury)
Not single one of these offered any "exclusive deals for park holiday guests"
So perhaps Park Holidays would like to clarify which local attractions DO offer exclusive deals for park holiday guests?
I won't hold my breathe.
IF you are booking a stay with Park Holidays, I would not bother "upgrading" and paying an extra £130.
Most of the so called upgrades are already available with silver, silver plus and gold caravans as standard.
As their customer service have said in writing, they do not have any 'gold' standard caravans, even though their website continues to claim they do!
Entertainment passes are available to all guests and apart from the link up bingo games, are not needed to do anything on the camp.
There are no "local attractions" that offer "exclusive deals to park holiday guests" Well none in Broadstairs, Margate or Ramsgate that we found.
Park holidays' gold plus caravans are "minimalistic and do not have as much storage space" according to their own customer service manager. Less storage space than bronze and silver caravans.
Regardless of your £130 extra fee for upgrading, your caravan will have a walk through kitchen area and not the one advertised on their website, you will not get a caravan with any decking outside or any outdoor furniture and your bathroom will be miniscule, more so than the pictures advertising gold caravans on their website. You can expect to be provided with a toilet, but as we found, you may very well be unable to sit on it facing the right way as your knees will be pressed up against the wall, such is the limited size of the bathroom.
As Park holidays' customer service manager states, "The bathrooms are small in most of our caravans regardless of layout"
Park holidays' free wifi does not work (as well as the free trial wifi being offered that doesn't work either), so pay no heed to their website claims and set it up with your own mobile provider before you travel.
Bed linen is not a bonus for upgrading to gold plus, it's available with silver, gold caravans as standard.
Bedmaking is simply for your arrival, put your own douvet cover on and the jobs done, again not worth the upgrade.
Save yourself some money, DON'T PAY FOR AN UPGRADE, if you have a complaint, ask the hardworking, overworked staff at your camp, as their customer service after-sales is slow (2 weeks to respond) and only answer the questions they want, not what you actually asked.
This post is a follow up to the post: