It may be recalled that I have had an ‘on-going’ dispute‘ with my local authority where the subject of waste collection is concerned. Having issued the ‘challenge’ I have to own up to ‘capitulation’ in that I paid up – at which point the phrase “all mouth, no trousers” could well be levied at me. However, as is said, there lies more behind a headline than at first sight may appear.
Other than the deductions I had made – two last year, in July and August and two this year, in April and May – at the time of receipt of the Summons I was not in deficit where monthly payments were concerned. Admittedly I had, though an oversight, failed to make the monthly payment for September this year, however this error was corrected on 2nd October and the payment for October made on 19th.
The Summons – dated 2nd October and received on 3rd, ‘demanded’ payment of arrears which amounted to the £20 and payment for the remaining months, September to January 2013, plus Court Fees of £60. When I queried on what basis were said Court Fees calculated and how I could be liable for a charge that, until a Court Ruling had been made, cannot exist – on the basis that were I to ‘win’ I could not then be liable for their costs – the reply received stated that: “costs are agreed by the Magistrate’s Court and take into consideration all administration costs in managing a Council Tax Account, two senior officer’s time in attending court and their travel costs”. This prompted another question from me to the effect that were I to ‘settle’, why should I be liable for costs that would not have been incurred. A question to which no answer was forthcoming, other than I must pay.
A further topic of what turned out to be an extensive email exchange of views centred on the question of why anyone should pay for a service they have not received and the fact that my local authority had conceded – in other emails – that waste collection had not been made. Citation was made to a Court of Appeal ruling (21st May 1999; Leeds City Council v Spencer – Court of Appeal [Lord Justice Evans and Lord Justic Brooke] 6 May 1999) that a local authority could not avoid its public law duty imposed by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to collect household waste; to which answer was there none.
That met with the response that: “Council Tax is a charge that also helps to provide other services within the district such as housing, leisure, planning and tourism” – which has prompted an FOI request asking for a ‘breakdown’ of what funding each of those items, plus waste collection, receives from the total sum of Council Tax receipts. I was also informed in an subsequent email that Council Tax is, as with all taxes, not a voluntary payment but an ‘enforced contribution’ where failure to pay is punishable by law” – “Referism” anyone? (The use of the words “enforced contribution”, used conjoining, did cause I a certain degree of amusement – but I digress). On the subject of ‘apportionment’ of Council Tax, the offer was made that had I ‘over-deducted’ my stoppages I would, of course, make up any ‘shortfall’, however if I had ‘under-deducted’………….
It was obvious that the failure to meet September’s “due payment date” is what caused the Summons to be issued (are a local authority really going to issue a summons for £20?) so I then posed the question that if the summons had been issued because of my failure to pay by the September due date, why had a summons not been issued for April, May and June of this year when my payments had not been made until the 7th, 10th and 2nd respectively? (By way of explanation, the “due date” is the 1st of each month).
That brought forth the response that: “I agree you were late making your payments for Council Tax in the previous months and that these late payments were addressed by reminder notices being issued to you”. This statement is stretching the facts, or being economical with the actualité, in that the reminder notices issued had nothing to do with the months in question, but referred, on each occasion, to the matter of the withheld payments. Of course my local authority forgot to mention that as they made a gigantic, administrative, cock-up, which resulted in Council Tax demands not being sent out in time for anyone to meet the April “due date”, no-one did. As a result of that, in answer to my question why no summons had been issued for the months of April, May and June 2012 — bearing in mind I had not met the “due dates” – answer was there none, other than a repeat of the mantra “I must pay”.
Another ‘bone of contention: At any hearing, if a defendant is found ‘liable’, a Liability Order is made and one which incurs the further cost of £38. Having paid the ‘demanded’ amount of £152 at 22:00 last night (£20 withheld, payments for November, December and January [£24 per month] plus £60 Court costs), on checking this morning that the account was ‘considered cleared’, I find that the outstanding debt had risen to £190 – in other words the cost of the Liability Order had been added.
When I promptly emailed my Local Authority (West Oxfordshire District Council) querying how something that, again, could not logically be considered a debt prior to it being imposed by a ruling of the Court I was advised the Liability Order had been “held in abeyance” pending clearance of my payment – and that it had been ‘removed from my account’. I promptly replied that having made the payment, between the time of ‘logging-off’ their website and then immediately ‘logging-on’ to my bank account I found the funds had ‘left my account’. I also pointed out to them that as they had issued a receipt (reference number noted) acknowledging receipt of said payment, why was ‘clearance of funds’ a consideration. Having checked with my bank they confirmed that once a ‘call’ was made on funds, by means of card payment, providing the account held the required funds, said funds were immediately ‘dispatched’ and would always be in the recipient’s account within a maximum of 2 hours.
In that last email I also requested on what basis had the cost of the Liability Order been added to my account and who was the person responsible for that decision, referring to an email which assured me that were payment of £152 to be made then no Liability Order would be applied for and for which I would – and could not – be liable. Despite two emails this afternoon, again I still await a response.
To turn to the question why I ‘succumbed’ and ‘paid up’. As a state pensioner I make it a rule to exist on that income – in other words, if I haven’t the money for something I ‘go without’. I pointed out to the Council that, after paying my rent, electricity and other ‘household bills’ I was left with circa £200 for food, clothing and – if anything was ‘left-over’ – my leisure pursuits. Having agreed to pay the required sum of £152, I left them to work out where the cost of 3 weeks food was coming from (the fact I have a ‘freezer-full’ is neither here nor there).
It is also necessary to consider, when taking the decision to fight such a case as this, the possible costs that may be involved/accrue. Of immediate consideration is that of the liability order – one then has to take into account any Bailiff costs – something that Richard North, EUReferendum has written about quite extensively – which can amount to horrendous amounts. It is also necessary to consider my Mother and my weekly visits and that, should I be incarcerated, the effect that would have on her bearing in mind her age (100) and her mental and physical state of health.
It has to be admitted that, in my correspondence with the official of West Oxfordshire District Council, matters may not have been helped by my pointing out that it was becoming plain the lack of an understanding of logic, coupled with any understanding of the English Language, was obviously no bar to gaining employment with said council and that no doubt, in common with every other public sector worker, my correspondent wondered, on a daily basis, why public sector workers were held in such disdain by those they were meant to serve – and that they should wonder no longer as it had just been most admirably illustrated.
There is an upside to all this and that is – as with the question of our democracy – where progression of my case is concerned, there is “another way”. It is surprising what research can ‘throw-up’ – and as I advised my correspondent the fact I have paid the ‘demand’ is not the end of the matter. In the words of Arnie, I took the liberty of forewarning them: “I’ll be back”.