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Council tax

Problems paying, summons and enforcement action

If you experience any difficulty in paying your instalments it is important that you contact us as soon as the problem starts. Please do not wait for a reminder to arrive.

If you contact us early before recovery proceedings have commenced we can consider your position and it may be possible to agree other arrangements.

Contact us by phone: 01925 443210

Or email: counciltax@warrington.gov.uk

Council Tax Support

Are you sure you have claimed all the benefits you are entitled to?

See benefits section for more information.

If you are claiming Universal Credit you must claim Council Tax Support here for help to pay your Council Tax.

Discounts and reductions

Check to see if you are eligible for a council tax discount or reduction

Debt advice

There are also many voluntary sector advice agencies which provide free specialist debt advice in Warrington.

What happens if I don't pay?

Reminders

We will only send you two reminder notices in each year.

If you have already been sent a reminder notice, brought your instalment payments up to date, but then fell behind again, we will send you a second reminder notice. If you do not pay this, or contact us, within ten days you will be sent a final notice that will cancel your right to pay by instalments. This means that the amount outstanding for the financial year will become due in full.

We will only send you a maximum of two reminder notices in each financial year so it is important to keep your payments up to date once you have received a second reminder.

When you receive the summons you should contact us immediately to discuss your situation and make an arrangement to pay the amount you owe.

Your case will be heard at the Magistrates Court and the council will ask the court for a Liability Order. In most cases you will not have to attend the court hearing.

Summons

Why have I received a summons?

The summons has been issued because you have not paid the amounts due in accordance with the bills and notices that have been sent to you or your payments have been received late. The total amount shown on the summons (including the costs) is now due and payable.

If the amount due on the summons, including the costs, is not paid in full before the Hearing date, an application will be made for a Liability Order. This gives the council statutory powers to enforce payment of the debt. These powers include demanding employment/benefit details, using Enforcement officers and making an attachment to earnings or benefit.

What should I do next?

If you make payment in full (including the costs) before the Hearing date, no further action is required.

If you are having difficulty making payment depending on your circumstances the council will be prepared to enter into an arrangement for payment. Any arrangement entered into at this stage will be based on the Liability Order being obtained and enforcement action being suspended whilst the agreed payments are being made.

To discuss an arrangement for payment or any other queries you may have regarding your account you should contact us on 01925 443210 before the Hearing.

What if I have a pending claim for benefit, a discount or rateable value adjustment ?

The magistrates are required by law to grant a Liability Order. The fact there is an application pending is not considered to be a valid defence. The application may not be successful. However, the council may consider temporarily suspending action after the Hearing to allow time for a claim to be processed.

Do I have any defence against the issue of a Liability Order?

There are only two valid defences - you are not the person or company liable for the tax/rate, or your instalments have been received by the due dates. Late payment of instalments and payments received after the expiry of reminder notice is NOT a valid defence.

If you believe you have a valid defence, you should contact us immediately on 01925 443210. The council will look to withdraw the application if you have a valid defence.

Do I need to attend the court hearing?

No. There is no requirement that you attend the Hearing unless you have a valid defence. The Magistrates cannot make a decision on how the debt is to be paid. By law, they can only decide whether a Liability Order should be granted or not. If there is no valid defence they should grant the Order.

Please note the council has no facilities at the court to be able to deal with account queries. You should contact us before the Hearing to resolve any outstanding issues or discuss payment. If you do attend the Hearing you may have a wait of up to two hours before you are seen.

Liability Order

When we obtain a Liability Order, we will send you a letter telling you a Liability Order has been made. On the reverse of the letter is a form requesting details of your income and that of your partner. You must complete and return this form to the Council within 14 days from the date of issue.

It is an offence not to complete and return the form and you maybe fined by the Magistrates for failing to do so.

If you have not already done so, you should contact us immediately upon receipt of this letter to discuss your situation and make an agreement to pay the amount you owe.

When a liability order has been granted it allows the council to take more action to collect the money that is owed. This action includes:

  • Requesting income details.
  • Instructing Enforcement Agents.
  • Having money taken directly from your earnings.
  • Having money taken directly from your Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance.
  • Applying for a charging order on your property. This means we could force its sale to pay your Council Tax arrears, or the arrears will be paid out of the proceeds of any future sale. If the charging order is granted, you will have to pay additional fees.
  • Applying to make you bankrupt. Once the process has started you will have to pay any additional fees.
  • Applying to the magistrates for your committal to prison.

The council can do any of these things. Committal to prison will not be considered unless Enforcement Agents have tried unsuccessfully to recover the amounts due.

Making an arrangement to clear what you owe

You can contact us for advice at any time if you fall behind with your payments. If you have received a summons, you can make an arrangement but you will have to pay the court costs and we will still apply for a Liability Order at the Magistrates’ Court.

Before you contact us, it may help you to make a list of your income and outgoings and work out how much you can afford to repay each week or month. If you are experiencing financial difficulty, you will be asked to complete and return an ‘Income and Expenditure form’ in order that we may assess your situation.

Attachment of earnings and benefits

If you are in employment, we can ask your employer to deduct a certain amount of money each month. The exact amount will be in accordance with a scale of deductions set by the government. The more you earn, the higher the deduction. Your employer can also deduct a charge covering their administrative costs in making the deductions. For further details see our 'Attachment of Earnings (The Law) guide'.

We have Guidance for Employers setting up an attachments of earnings downloads available.

If you are in receipt of Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or Pension Credit, we can ask the DWP to make a deduction from each payment they make to you. Again, the exact amount will depend on figures set by the government.

Sending your account to an enforcement agent

Once we have passed your account to an Enforcement Agent , they will contact you. If you have any questions, you should contact the Enforcement Agent direct.

The Liability Order allows an Enforcement Agent to remove goods from your property so they can sell them and use the money to pay the Council Tax you owe. In practice, this will only happen in extreme cases, as the Enforcement Agent would rather collect payment from you. After we have passed your account to the Enforcement Agent, they will add fees to your account to cover their expenses. For further information concerning fees charged please see below:

Enforcement Agent action

Enforcement officers will come to your property when the council holds a council tax Liability Order for outstanding council tax.

Enforcement officers will carry written authorisation from the council, which you can ask to see. The Enforcement officer will try to obtain full payment from you, including fees.

If you cannot make full payment, they can take possession of your goods with a value of up to the amount owed. This is known as “taking control of goods”.

There are three options for the Enforcement officers if you do not pay in full:

  • The Enforcement officers lets the goods stay in your property, providing you make an arrangement to pay, or until the goods can be removed. If you do not keep up the payments, the Enforcement officers will return and remove the goods.
  • The Enforcement officers stays with the goods until payment is made, or until the goods can be removed.
  • The bailiff actually removes goods from the property. Once removed, goods are sold at public auction to pay the council tax that is owed.

Usually, goods sold at auction will not realise the amount of money you may have paid for them.

There will be additional costs involved with this process including the costs of removal, storage and the auctioneer’s fees.

What an Enforcement Agent can take

Enforcement Agents may remove goods belonging to the person named on the liability order including goods they part own.

They cannot remove certain goods. These include:

  • Fixtures and fittings
  • Tools, books, vehicles and other equipment that is necessary for your personal use for work
  • Food, clothes, bedding, furniture and household equipment that is necessary to meet basic needs of you and your family
  • Any item or equipment reasonably required for the medical care of the debtor or of the debtor's household or the safety or security of the dwelling house
  • Sufficient lamps or stoves or other appliances designed to provide lighting or heating facilities, to satisfy the basic heating and lighting needs of the debtor's household
  • Any item or equipment reasonably required for the care of a person under the age of 18 ,a disabled person or an older person
  • Assistance dogs,sheep dogs,guard dogs or domestic pets
  • A vehicle on which a valid disabled person`s badge is displayed because it is used for the carriage of a disabled person
  • A vehicle used for police, fire or ambulance purposes

Enforcement Agents may take control of ‘tools of the trade’ with a value in excess of £1,350.00.

There is a time limit of 12 months for taking control of goods but if a payment arrangement is entered into the 12 month period stops.

A full 12 month period re-starts if the pay arrangement defaults.

If the Enforcement Agent is unable to recover sufficient goods.

If the Enforcement Agent is unable to recover sufficient goods to cover the amount owed, or if they cannot gain entry to the property, they will tell us.

The council will then have no choice but to take another course of action such as:

  • Making an attachment to your benefits or earnings.
  • Place a charge on your property – If this is done, the council can force you to sell your property and pay off the council tax debt plus interest out of any money left after the mortgage has been repaid.
  • Apply to make you bankrupt.
  • Apply to the magistrates’ court for your committal to prison.

If you are not in when the Enforcement Agent calls

If you are not in when the Enforcement Agent calls, they will leave their contact details. You should either pay in full including the costs or contact the Enforcement Agent to arrange payment.

Please note should the Enforcement Agent visit your premises you will incur a further fee of at least £235.00

From 6 April 2014

Enforcement Agents may visit premises on any day of the week including Sunday but only between the hours of 6.00am and 9.00 pm.

Enforcement Agent fees

Enforcement Agent are entitled to charge fees, in addition to the unpaid council tax. The fees will depend on the actions an Enforcement Agent is forced to take in order to recover the outstanding sum.

From 6 April a new fee structure

A new fee structure is introduced with a fee payable as soon as each of the three stage process begins:

i) Compliance stage: £75.00 charged as soon as the case is passed from the Local Authority to the Enforcement Agent. The charge is payable on each Liability Order.

ii) Enforcement stage: £235.00 plus 7.5% of the value of the debt that exceeds £1,500. The fee of £235.00 is payable upon first attendance at the premises. Only one enforcement fee maybe charged even if there are multiple Liability Orders.

iii) Salestage: £110.00 plus 7.5% of the value of the debt that exceeds £1,500. The fee is payable upon first attendance at the premises to remove the goods or prepare for sale.

iv) Enforcement agents may also recover disbursement fees that are reasonably and actually incurred such as the cost of storage of goods removed and locksmiths fees.

v) The level of the fees is set by the Government and will be reviewed annually.

Please note the compliance fee is payable before the arrears and the other fees are payable on a pro rata basis.

Transitional arrangements will apply in respect of accounts for which Enforcement Agent have initiated action prior to 6 April 2014.

Complaints about the enforcement agent

We monitor Enforcement Agents performance on a continual basis, to ensure the Enforcement Agent is working within the terms and conditions of our contract and following the national standards code of practice for Enforcement Agents (CIVEA) in accordance with The taking control of goods regulations 2013.

CIVEA is an independently funded association formed to represent all Enforcement agents in England and Wales further information can be viewed at the CIVEA website.

If you think a Enforcement Agent has done anything wrong, you should initially complain in writing to the Enforcement Agents concerned. Each of the Enforcement Agent firms used by the council has a complaints department. If you remain unhappy at the response to your complaint from the Enforcement Agent please forward details of your complaint to the council.

Enforcement Agents we use

Equita Limited: www.equita.co.uk

Bristow and Sutor Limited: www.bristowsutor.co.uk

Jacobs: www.jacobsbailiffs.co.uk/contact

Marstons Limited: www.marstongroup.co.uk

Rossendales Limited: www.rossendales.com

Phoenix Limited: www.phoenixcommercial.co.uk

Bailiff Law from 6 April 2014

The law governing bailiffs changed on 6 April 2014. The Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 and the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014, mean that over 400 years of bailiff law has now changed.

The main changes:

  • Bailiffs will be known as Enforcement Agents
  • Enforcement Agents must follow a three stage process:

i) Compliance stage - Upon receipt of an instruction the Enforcement Agent must give the defaulter a minimum of seven clear days notice that he intends to visit their premises to take control of goods.

ii) Enforcement stage - The Enforcement Agent attends a premises to take control of goods and all associated activities prior to the removal of goods for sale.

iii)Sale stage - The Enforcement Agent attends a premises to either remove the goods for the purposes of sale, or commences preparation for sale if the sale is to be held on the premises. This stage concludes when the property is sold or disposed of.

  • Levy, distress and walking possession agreements are replaced by "the process of taking control of goods" and a "controlled goods agreement"
  • There is a time limit of 12 months for taking control of goods but if a payment arrangement is entered the 12 month period stops. A full 12 month period re-starts if the pay arrangement defaults
  • Enforcement Agents may visit premises on any day of the week including Sunday but only between the hours of 6am and 9pm
  • Enforcement Agents now have a duty to identify vulnerable persons and refer them to seek advice
  • Enforcement Agents may take control of 'tools of the trade' with a value in excess of £1,350.00.
  • Enforcement Agents must provide written notice to both the defaulter and any co-owner in respect of any objects which they have taken control
  • It will become an offence to interfere with controlled goods or to obstruct an Enforcement Agent in the legal course of their duties.

A new fee structure

A new fee structure is introduced with a fee payable as soon as each of the three stage process begins :

i) Compliance stage - £75.00 charged as soon as the case is passed from the local Authority to the Enforcement Agent. The charge is payable on each Liability Order.

ii) Enforcement stage - £235.00 plus 7.5% of the value of the debt that exceeds £1,500. The fee of £235.00 is payable upon first attendance at the premises. Only one enforcement fee maybe charged even if there are multiple Liability Orders.

iii) Sale stage - £110.00 plus 7.5% of the value of the debt that exceeds £1,500. The fee is payable upon first attendance at the premises to remove the goods or prepare for sale.

iv) Enforcement agents may also recover disbursement fees that are reasonably and actually incurred such as the cost of storage of goods removed and locksmiths fees.

v) The level of the fees is set by the government and will be reviewed annually.

vi) The £75.00 compliance fee is payable before the balance on the liability order. The Enforcement and Sale fees are payable on a pro rata basis. All fees belong to the Enforcement Agent and should be paid to the Enforcement Agent.

Transitional arrangements will apply in respect of accounts for which bailiffs have initiated action prior to 6 April 2014. In almost all cases the account reverts to the Compliance stage, the £75.00 is not payable but existing fees already incurred are payable.

Council Tax and Business Rates: Bankruptcy process

If you owe more than £5000.00 in Council Tax or Business Rates and a Liability Order has been obtained in respect to your debts then the Council may institute bankruptcy proceedings against you.

If we take bankruptcy proceedings against you then you will receive a warning letter informing you of this course of action along with details of the consequences of this process. If you receive a letter of this nature then it is important to immediately contact the Council and make an arrangement to pay.

If you fail to Contact the Council we will instruct our solicitors to issue you with a statutory demand- upon issue of this demand you have 21 days to make payment in full.

If you receive a statutory demand you should immediately contact our solicitors.

Upon expiry of the statutory demand a bankruptcy petition will be presented to the County Court leading to a hearing for your bankruptcy. You can still be made bankrupt even if you refuse to acknowledge or agree with the proceedings. It is therefore in your best interest to fully co-operate once bankruptcy proceedings have commenced.

Consequences of bankruptcy:

  • A trustee in bankruptcy will be appointed to manage and investigate your affairs
  • Your home could be sold along with any other assets of value
  • Your bank accounts frozen
  • You may have difficulties obtaining credit even following the discharge of your bankruptcy
  • You will incur substantial legal costs
  • Any assets obtained during the term of your bankruptcy will also be lost for example any inheritances or insurance pay outs.
  • If you are self-employed then your business will be closed and any business assets claimed by the trustee.
  • Your trustee may apply for an Income Payments Order (IPO) which will require you to make contributions towards your creditors from your income.

If bankruptcy proceedings have been issued against you then it is advised to seek independent legal advice, the above is a general guide only.