If instalments are not paid as they are due a reminder will be sent requiring payments to be brought up to date within 7 days.

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1 APPENDIX 1 DEBT RECOVERY POLICY This debt recovery policy of South Lakeland District Council aims to maximise income from all revenue generating sources whilst incorporating a sympathetic approach to the difficulties some individuals will have in making payments. The policy recognises that the recovery options available differ according to the type of debt. COUNCIL TAX AND NATIONAL NON-DOMESTIC RATES South Lakeland District Council will collect Council Tax and National Non-Domestic Rates in an efficient manner ensuring that collection rates exceed 99%. This policy sets out the processes to be followed in achieving these levels recognising the difficulties faced by some households in making payment but that the Council must pursue debts in fairness to the vast majority who make payment in full on time. Statutory Instalments Everyone is entitled to pay Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rates by instalments and where a bill is issued at the start of the financial year this is payable by 10 statutory instalments from April through to January inclusive. Where bills are issued during the year the number of instalments will be reduced but in these cases an instalment may be paid in February. Council Tax payers and Non-Domestic Ratepayers now have the right to pay by 12 instalments instead of ten but this is on written request made by 31 st March in the preceding financial year. Reminders If instalments are not paid as they are due a reminder will be sent requiring payments to be brought up to date within 7 days. A maximum of 2 reminders will be issued in any one financial year for council tax and only 1 for national non-domestic rates which is in accordance with regulations. A second reminder for council tax will only be issued if the tax payer has brought the first reminder up to date within the 7 days. Final Notices If payment is not made on a closed account where there is no further liability or an account with only one instalment a final notice will be issued. A final notice will also be issued when a reminder has been issued for the same liability and has not been complied with or in cases where 2 Council Tax reminders or 1 Non-Domestic Rate reminder have already been issued within the year. The final notice requires the amount outstanding for the year to be paid in full in 7 days. At this point the right to pay by instalments is lost. 1

2 Payment Arrangements The Council will consider any proposals from defaulters who wish to make a payment arrangement and each case will be treated on its merits. However the Council will generally seek to recover the amount due by payments within the current financial year and only in exceptional cases of hardship will arrangements be extended beyond this timescale. In order to ensure alternative action can be taken promptly in default of payment arrangements an application will be made to the Magistrates' Court for a Liability Order as detailed later in this policy in all cases where payment arrangements are made. Summons A summons will be issued if the liable person has not made payment in accordance with the notices previously issued. Where a special payment arrangement has been agreed, application will be made for a summons to be issued and a liability order requested to ensure the Council can act promptly in default of a payment arrangement. Prior to the issue of a summons the Council must make a complaint to the Clerk to the Justice at the Magistrates Court requesting a summons be issued to the debtor. This will be signed by the Clerk and the summons will be issued on the same day to the liable person summonsing appearance before court to show why the sum outstanding has not been paid. A summons will always be issued with a minimum of 14 days between the issue date and the court hearing date. The summons will state the amount unpaid and the time and place of the court. The Council will make application to the Magistrates at the hearing for costs ( 65 from 1 st April 2014) to be awarded against the liable person to recognise the Council s administration costs in recovering the debt and the costs charged by the Magistrates Court to the Council. This costs become payable on the issue of a summons. There are only certain areas of dispute that can be heard in the Magistrates Court. These include: There is no valid entry in the Council Tax Valuation List or the Local Rating List for the period of liability The Council Tax has not been properly set The Council Tax or Non-Domestic Rate has not been properly demanded The amount demanded has been paid More than six years have elapsed since the day on which the sum became due Bankruptcy or winding-up proceedings have commenced. There are certain areas that are not a valid dispute at a hearing and it is not in the Magistrates jurisdiction to make a decision on these areas or delay a liability order request as a result. These include: The liable person disputes their liability or the amount of discount or exemption granted in respect of council tax. An appeal should be made to the Council in the first instance and if the Council Taxpayer still disagrees with the decision there is then a right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. However in the meantime the full amount as demanded remains due and payable until the appeal has been decided. 2

3 If following the appeal the liable person s account is adjusted resulting in an overpayment then a refund will be issued. If the liable person has a claim for a Local Council Tax Reduction awaiting a decision, the amount demanded still remains outstanding and a summons will still be issued and an application made for a Liability Order. No further action will be taken after that stage pending the outcome of the Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme claim. The Valuation Office Agency is responsible for maintaining the list of non-domestic rateable values and council tax bandings. The Council must issue Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rate demands and recover amounts due in accordance with these lists. If a person disputes a rateable value or council tax banding they need to contact the Valuation Office Agency, but until any amendments are made to the lists payment is due according to the statutory instalments. The summons is a legal document requiring the defendant to attend court to give evidence. If the defendant fails to appear at the hearing it will proceed in their absence. Liability Order Providing the Magistrates are satisfied that the sum shown has become payable by the defendant and all or part of it remains unpaid a liability order will be issued. Unless a special payment arrangement has been made previously with the liable person to cover the outstanding debts, then a notice will be issued confirming that a liability order has been granted. This notice will contain a request for further information in accordance with regulations. In the case of a council tax debt, the liable person has a legal duty to provide certain information including their employer s name and address. Failure to provide this information could result in an additional fine of up to 500 for non-disclosure and 1,000 for supplying false information. An opportunity will also be given to the debtor to make an offer of payment at this stage to avoid further recovery action. The notice will also specify that the liability order enables the Council to take various options to recover the debt: In recovering Council Tax by serving an attachment of earnings order on the employer of the defaulter requiring that deductions be made from the liable persons earnings. In recovering Council Tax by serving notice on the Department for Work and Pensions or HMRC that deductions should be made from Income Support, Income Based Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or Pension Credit. In recovering Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rates by distraining upon the goods of the defaulter by forwarding the liability order to a firm of Enforcement Agents. A list of the enforcement fees will also be included to inform the liable person of the additional fees and charges that will be incurred; If still no contact is made by the liable person and no special payment arrangement is agreed then one of the recovery options available would commence in the order listed below and depending on the individual s circumstances. 3

4 Attachment of Earnings Order Council Tax This is an order sent to the liable person s employer instructing them to make deductions direct from the employee s earnings and to forward these payments to the Council. The amount of the deduction is a % of the net earnings depending on certain net pay brackets. Once the attachment has been served the employer is able to deduct 1 towards administrative costs for each deduction. The Order is a legal document and an employer may be liable for a fine if failing to comply with the order. A maximum of two Orders can be in place at any one time. A copy of the attachment of earnings notice will be sent to the defaulter. Attachment of Prescribed Benefits Council Tax If the liable person is in receipt of Income Support, Income Based Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or Guaranteed Pension Credit the council will apply directly to the benefit provider requesting a statutory deduction be made from these benefits and paid to the Council. A copy of the notice requesting deductions from benefit will be sent to the defaulter. Certificated Enforcement Agents Council Tax and National Non-Domestic Rates The Council will instruct a firm of Certificated Enforcement Agents to collect debts and/or remove goods and chattels to be sold to settle the whole or part of the debt. If a debt is passed to Certificated Enforcement Agents then additional fees and charges in accordance with statute will be incurred by the defaulter in collection of the debt. Fees and Charges are set out in law to cover the work undertaken. Only in cases where recovery of the debt has not been successful will the following methods of recovery be pursued: Charging Orders Where there is considered to be sufficient equity in the ownership of a property application will be made for a Charging Order in the County Court which will be recorded against the property to secure the debt. This means that when the property is sold the proceeds would go towards the council s debt as a priority. The Council may request a force sale Order which if successful would mean the property would have to be put on the market. This option will only be used if the Council is satisfied there are no vulnerable occupiers in the household who may be at risk if required to vacate. Vulnerable households are those with a carer, children aged less than 5 and those with a disability. Bankruptcy/Liquidation This action will be considered if there are sufficient assets to realise and meet the outstanding debt. This is an option that the Council will consider only after options detailed earlier in this policy have been unsuccessful. 4

5 The Council will consider using insolvency proceedings under the following circumstances: Where the debt exceeds 1,500 (or a lower limit of 750 in certain circumstances including where fraud is involved) and the debtor has sufficient assets or equity to ensure the debt is recoverable by the Official Receiver or the Trustee. Where the debtor is not making regular and mutually agreed payments that are sufficient to clear accruing debt and the arrears within an acceptable timescale. Where insolvency action is considered most effective in recovering from a particular debtor. Where the debt has arisen as a result of fraud. Where specific assets cannot be identified but there are indicators that the debtor is one of high material worth for example, renting high value property/ Where bankruptcy action would encourage payment from specific groups of debtors where their credit rating is important to them, for example company directors, self-employed people and those people needing finance. Special Circumstances (Bankruptcy/Liquidation). Bankruptcy or Liquidation proceedings will not normally be commenced in the following circumstances: Where a debtor, as a result of age, severe mental illness or serious learning difficulties cannot deal with their affairs. Where the debtor is currently in receipt of 100% Local Council Tax Reduction with no accruing debt. The Council will give 28 days notice of its intention to commence bankruptcy/liquidation proceedings. The Insolvency Service booklet Guide to Bankruptcy will be issued. This booklet fully details the effects of bankruptcy action, the alternatives to it, a glossary of terms and where to go for help and advice. Committal If a Council Tax or Non-Domestic Rate debt is still outstanding after exhausting all other recovery options then the final option will be an application for a summons to be issued for the debtor to appear before the Magistrates for an enquiry into his or her means. If the debtor does not attend court the Council will apply for an arrest warrant with bail initially and then without bail if the debtor again fails to attend. The arrest warrant with bail will be hand delivered to the debtor and it will specify a time to appear at court. The arrest warrant without bail will require immediate arrest of the debtor who will be arrested and detained pending the hearing at court. Such action could result in a maximum prison sentence of three months. When considering if a case is suitable for an application to be made to the Magistrates Court for a Means Enquiry the Council will have exhausted all other recovery options available. 5

6 The debts must have previously been referred to the Council s Enforcement Agents (previously known as bailiffs) and subsequently returned certificated, either unable to make contact with the debtor, unable to gain access or returned because there are insufficient goods to seize. Consideration will have previously been given to commencing bankruptcy/liquidation proceedings or applying for a charging order. However there must be sufficient reason to satisfy that neither of these options is appropriate or relevant. As part of the consideration as to whether committal proceedings are appropriate in a particular case, the Council will consider the overall debt position, the financial position including income and equity, personal circumstances and the level of engagement including previous payment history. The more information held about the debtor the more efficient the decision making process will be in terms of selecting the most effective enforcement option. As part of the decision making process the Council will seek to build a picture of the debtor and their circumstances and will achieve this in various ways, including all of the following activities: Checking if the debtor has contacted the council to discuss their arrears, or attempted to clear them. Checking if the debtor has responded to requests for information concerning their financial affairs. Checking the outcome of previous attempts to recover arrears. Checking the debtor s financial circumstances, including: o The value of any assets owned by the debtor o If the debtor owns a property which is not their main residence o Checking H.M. Land Registry to confirm property assets. o Checking with a Credit Reference Agency for information on outgoings, requests for finance, mortgages and other financial information. Checking if there is any correspondence on file to suggest that the person is considered vulnerable. Checking if the debtor has been urged to seek independent financial advice. Checking with Adult Social Care to ensure there are no mental health issues. Checking if the debtor has been offered a home visit if appropriate. Checking all Council Tax or Non-Domestic Rate records or other relevant records to establish whether there are any reasons to suggest that committal proceedings may not be appropriate. Checking with the Benefits Section to ensure that all Local Council Tax Reductions due to the debtor have been posted to the council tax account and that records do not indicate that the debtor is vulnerable. Checking known or potential employment details. Checking Housing Benefit Overpayment records and Business Rates/Council Tax records. Checking with any Private Sector Housing contacts. The debt is over a minimal balance of 1,000 Must have an address (c/o address not acceptable) During this process the Council will utilise all the information available, either on file or through land registry and credit agency checks. 6

7 If there is more than one liable person, a decision will be made about which ONE liable person/debtor to institute committal proceedings. Committal proceedings are to be instituted only in the last resort. Special Circumstances (Committal Proceedings) If made aware of the following circumstances prior to undertaking committal proceedings, the Council will consider undertaking alternative action: Where a debtor, as a result of age, severe mental illness or serious learning difficulties cannot deal with their affairs. Where the debtor is currently in receipt of 100% Local Council Tax Reduction with no accruing debt. Tracing of Debtors All amounts unpaid will be pursued in accordance with this debt recovery policy. In the event of a debtor leaving their last known address without providing a forwarding address, the Council will use various methods of tracing the individual. This will include organisations such as Experian and other tracing agencies. The Council is legally entitled to request this information under the Data Protection Act Section 29 for the collection of tax. RECOVERY OF OVERPAYMENTS OF HOUSING BENEFIT South Lakeland District Council will collect overpayments of Housing Benefit as a result of claimants failing to notify the Council of changes in circumstances or providing incorrect information initially. This policy sets out the processes to be followed recognising the difficulties that will be faced by some claimants in re-paying overpayments but that the Council must pursue recovery as the scheme is financed from public funds. The Council will target to recover 60% of overpayments which when added to 40% subsidy paid by the Department for Work and Pensions means the residents of this District do not subsidise a national benefits scheme. Where an overpayment of Housing Benefit has occurred the Council will issue a formal notification stating the amount and period of the overpayment and reasons giving rise to it. Recovery will be strictly in accordance with the order of listing below: By recovery from ongoing housing benefit (SLDC) where the claimant remains in receipt of housing benefit from this Council a weekly deduction will be made from that benefit in accordance with a statutory table of deductions. The statutory amount will be the maximum weekly deduction but this may be reduced should the Council agree this would result in hardship to the claimant. By recovery from ongoing housing benefit (through another Local Authority) where the claimant remains in receipt of housing benefit from another local authority weekly deductions will be requested from housing benefit paid by that authority in accordance with a statutory table of deductions. The statutory amount will be the maximum weekly deduction but this may be reduced should this Council agree this would result in hardship to the claimant. By recovery from another welfare benefit paid to the claimant (through the Department for Work & Pensions (Debt Management)). Statutory deductions will be requested from any of the benefits prescribed. If deductions are not currently possible as other overpayments are 7

8 being recovered and deductions cannot be made within 6 months as advised by DWP then other recovery methods listed later are to be pursued. By recovery through the Welfare Reform Act 2012 supported by the Social Security (Overpayments and Recovery) Regulations 2013 which introduced Direct Earnings Attachments (DEA) from April A DEA allows for recovery of overpaid benefit directly from a debtor's earnings without having to apply via the court system. A Letter before Action (LBA) notification will be sent to customers prior to initiating a DEA with a view to prompting contact and making a suitable payment arrangement. Where re-payments of overpaid Housing Benefit cannot be recovered by deductions from ongoing benefits or by attaching earnings because the claimant is no longer in receipt of a benefit for which deductions can be made or no employment details are known the following procedures will be followed. An invoice for the overpayment will be issued requesting payment within 30 days but highlighting that the Council will accept payment by instalments at intervals suitable to the debtor. If payment is not made in accordance with the invoice or a suitable repayment arrangement is not achieved or an arrangement has fallen into arrears then a reminder will be issued giving 14 days to make payment in full or contact the Council to make payment by instalments. If payment is not made in full or suitable payment arrangements made within 14 days a final notice will be issued advising that if payment is not made within a further 7 days the debt will be passed to Collection Agents acting for the Council. Under contractual arrangements agreed no charge will be made to debtors for this collection service. If unpaid the debt will be referred to Collection Agents who on receipt of an instruction to collect overpaid Housing Benefit must attempt to contact the debtor within 2 weeks. This must include the issue of a letter. Before returning an overpaid Housing Benefit debt to the council the Collection Agents must have issued at least three letters, leaving 14 days between each, and they must have made several attempts to contact the debtor by telephone (if a contact telephone number is available). A visit must be carried out when thought appropriate and when instructed by an authorised officer of the council. The minimum expected standards to collect overpaid Housing Benefit must be attempted within 90 days of receipt of instruction. The council does not expect the Collection Agents to hold overpaid Housing Benefit debts for a period exceeding 90 days unless a repayment arrangement is in place or by written agreement with the council. Only when all the above courses of action have failed to realise payment or an arrangement for payment which is being adhered to will proceedings for recovery through the County Court be considered. Each case will be considered on its own merits taking into account the sum involved, the likelihood of receiving payment and the additional County Court fees to be recovered. OTHER DEBTS The Council raises invoices for a range of rents, fees and charges and, whilst the Finance Section will oversee recovery of these debts, responsibility for the debt lies with the originating department and there will be close liaison with the Department of the Council 8

9 budgeting for that income. In the case of non-payment the Council will initially consider whether future service can be withdrawn until payment is made. Customers have the option to pay invoices by direct debit upon completion of a signed mandate. Payment may be requested in instalments, though this is generally only offered for certain types of service, i.e. Car park permit (12 monthly instalments); Encroachment rents (6 monthly instalments, final instalment in September); Mooring fees An invoice for the fee or charge will be issued requesting payment within 30 days for a cash invoice direct debits are taken on 20 th of the month. If payment is not made in accordance with the invoice or a suitable repayment arrangement is not achieved or an arrangement has fallen into arrears then a reminder will be issued giving 14 days to make payment in full or contact the Council to make an arrangement for payment by instalments. Instalments are monitored on a monthly basis and any missed payments are followed up. County Court If payment is not made in full or suitable payment arrangements made within 14 days a final notice will be issued advising that if payment is not made within a further 14 days recovery action will be taken through the County Court. At this point the Service Department will be contacted to provide instruction to Finance on how recovery of the debt should proceed. They will make contact with the debtor with a view to securing payment and, if this is not successful, either withdrawing the current or future services and also ensuring that documentary evidence is available to pursue the debt through the County Court. Prior to making a claim through County Court each case will be considered on its own merits taking into account the sum involved, the cost of court action, the likelihood of receiving payment and the additional County Court fees to be recovered. Bankruptcy/Liquidation This action will be considered if there are sufficient assets to realise and meet the outstanding debt. This is an option that the Council will consider only after options detailed earlier in this policy have been unsuccessful. The Council will consider using insolvency proceedings under the following circumstances: Where the debt exceeds 1,500 (or a lower limit of 750 in certain circumstances including where fraud is involved) and the debtor has sufficient assets or equity to ensure the debt is recoverable by the Official Receiver or the Trustee. Where the debtor is not making regular and mutually agreed payments that are sufficient to clear accruing debt and the arrears within an acceptable timescale. Where insolvency action is considered most effective in recovering from a particular debtor. Where the debt has arisen as a result of fraud. 9

10 Where specific assets cannot be identified but there are indicators that the debtor is one of high material worth for example, renting high value property/ Where bankruptcy action would encourage payment from specific groups of debtors where their credit rating is important to them, for example company directors, self-employed people and those people needing finance. Bankruptcy or Liquidation proceedings will not normally be commenced in the following circumstances: Where a debtor, as a result of age, severe mental illness or serious learning difficulties cannot deal with their affairs. Where the debtor is currently in receipt of 100% Local Council Tax Reduction with no accruing debt. The Council will give 28 days notice of its intention to commence bankruptcy/liquidation proceedings. The Insolvency Service booklet Guide to Bankruptcy will be issued. This booklet fully details the effects of bankruptcy action, the alternatives to it, a glossary of terms and where to go for help and advice. Forfeiture/ Possession Proceedings This action will be considered where the Council leases property as an alternative to action through the County Court Write Off of Irrecoverable Debts It is inevitable that in a small number of cases debts will have to be written off after all options for recovery of the debt have been followed. Delegation within the Council s Constitution determines responsibility for the write off of debts but in all cases prior to authorising a write off assurances must be provided that recovery of the debt has been followed in accordance with this policy. DEBT ADVICE Independent, free advice is available from a number of organisations on the management of debt. These include the Citizens Advice Bureau ( and the Money Advice Service ( 10

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