Local Taxation Debt Recovery Policy

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1 Local Taxation Debt Recovery Policy

2 1.0 Introduction Runnymede Borough Council has a statutory duty to bill and collect Council Tax and Non- Domestic Rates (commonly known as Business Rates). Whilst the majority of these local taxes are paid and collected in a timely manner, there are occasions when the tax/rate payers do not make payments or do not make them on time. The Council has to be fair to those who do pay and not allow non-payers to evade payment. Therefore, this document sets out the Council s policy in relation to the recovery of unpaid Council Tax and Business Rates owed to the Council. The Council will take prompt, firm but fair action in collecting money to ensure efficient and cost effective collection of money due. Methods for the billing and recovery of statutory debt are defined within the relevant statutes and Regulations: The Local Government Finance Act 1992 and the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 The Local Government Finance Act 1988 and the Non Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Local Lists) Regulations 1989 Recovery action will be taken in accordance with these Acts and Regulations, Council policy, Court guidelines and Local Government Ombudsman guidance. The Council will aim to maximise income and minimise bad debt by: Issuing accounts accurately and on time Issuing recovery notices Using effective follow up procedures and legal action where appropriate Every year, recovery targets will be set for Local Taxation services to achieve. These targets will be reviewed on a monthly basis. 2.0 Debt Recovery Strategy Our strategy is to ensure that: there is a formal recovery process, there are proper rules and procedures in place, all methods of recovery available to the Council are utilised, the correct procedures are used when recovering through the courts or when taking action for bankruptcy or committal to prison, debtors rights are respected and their circumstances are considered when determining the course of action to be taken, showing flexibility when and where considered appropriate, and all debtors are treated fairly and equally. 3.0 Recovery Process: Council Tax and Business Rate payers will be issued with a bill in a timely manner. They will be offered payment by 10 monthly instalments if the bill is issued on or before 30 th April in any year.

3 If the tax/rate payer fails to make payment the procedures below will be followed: Council Tax One missed payment will result in a reminder being issued after at least 20 days. If not paid, a summons will be issued and costs will be incurred. If paid, no further action will be required. If another payment is missed a second reminder will be issued. If not paid after that, the debt will proceed to summons stage and costs will be incurred. If paid, and a payment is subsequently missed, a Final Notice will be issued for the full balance outstanding for the year. If not then paid, a summons will be issued and costs will be incurred. If not paid after that, application for a Liability Order will then be made to the Magistrates Court and further costs will be incurred. Once a Liability Order (LO) has been granted a notice informing the debtor of the LO will be despatched together with a request to pay the outstanding amount within 14 days. A Request for Information (RFI) form is also sent which the debtor must complete with relevant financial and employment details and return to the Council. If the debt is not then paid, and the RFI is not returned, the Council will employ other methods of recovery as detailed below. Business Rates After one missed payment a reminder (Further Notice) will be issued after at least 15 days. If not paid, a summons will be issued and costs will be incurred. If paid, no further action required. If another payment is missed a second reminder will be issued. If not paid after that, the debt will proceed to summons stage and costs will be incurred. If paid and a payment is subsequently missed, a Final Notice will be issued for the full balance outstanding for the year. If not then paid, a summons will be issued. If not paid after that, application for a Liability Order will then be made to the Magistrates Court and further costs will be incurred. Once a Liability Order has been granted, enforcement procedures can be taken to recover (see Methods of Recovery below). 4.0 Payment arrangements. The Council will try to make an appropriate arrangement with the debtor to clear the debt within the financial year. If agreed and maintained the debt will be recovered and paid. If the debtor fails to maintain an arrangement they will be informed of the amount of the arrears by letter. If after 14 days for Council Tax and 14 days for Business Rates the arrears are not paid, and the arrangement is still not being maintained, the Council will proceed to another stage of recovery. 5.0 Methods of recovery. If the debtor does not make or fails to maintain a payment arrangement, this Council will use all possible methods of recovery following the granting of a Liability Order and will determine the most appropriate in individual cases Deductions from DWP benefits (Council Tax only): If a debtor is on Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment & Support Allowance or Pension Credit a request can be made to the DWP to deduct an amount from the weekly benefit. This applies wherever the debtor lives in the U.K.

4 Attachment of earnings (Council Tax only): Once it has been established that the debtor is earning and their employer s details are known, an attachment of earnings can be applied. Attachment of Council Member Allowances (Council Tax only): If the debtor is an elected member of Runnymede Borough Council or Surrey County Council, an attachment of the member s allowances can be applied for to the relevant authority. Bailiffs: If neither a DWP nor AOE deduction is possible (Council Tax) nor an arrangement made, the debt(s) will be referred to one of the Council s bailiff companies for collection of the debt, which may necessitate distress on the debtor s goods. Bailiff fees will then be incurred by the debtor. Bankruptcy/Insolvency: This method will only be used if the debt exceeds 750 and has been referred back from the bailiffs. Before taking this measure, due consideration will be given to the debtor s circumstances as outlined in 6.0 below. Committal: If distress on goods has been attempted and failed, the Council can apply to the Magistrates Court for the issue of a warrant committing the debtor to prison. Before taking this measure, due consideration will be given to the debtor s circumstances as outlined in 6.0 below. Charging orders (Council Tax): The Council will apply to the County Court for a charging order where the debt exceeds 1,000 and the debtor(s) owns the property. Charging Orders will be used where the Council does not consider it appropriate for the debtor to be committed to prison, e.g. for health or age reasons, or to be made bankrupt/insolvent. They are unlikely to be used if the person is young enough to make the wait for a sale of the property impracticable. Security for unpaid Business Rates The Council may enter into an agreement with an owner/debtor so that: (a) any interest of his or hers in the property for which the rates are due will be charged to secure payment of the amount, and (b) in consideration of the charge, the Council will take no steps, for a specified period in the agreement and not to exceed three years, to recover any payment in respect of the amount. 6.0 Procedures for dealing with debtors where Bankruptcy/Insolvency or Committal is being considered: Council officers will make reasonable efforts to contact the debtor in person, including visiting their home/business if necessary. The Manager making the decision to pursue bankruptcy/insolvency or committal will ensure that it is a fair and proportionate action after:

5 reviewing an accurate history of the origin of the debt and attempts to recover it considering information about the past, present, disputed or outstanding benefit claims or any discounts or exemptions that might be relevant, assessing that the debtor has assets that will clear the debt if bankruptcy/insolvency is pursued, assessing that there is no realistic prospect of recovering the debt by other means in a reasonable timescale, gathering sufficient evidence about the debtor s circumstances, considering general equality duties including whether a debtor s failure to pay and to respond to other recovery measures could arise from a disability (including a mental impairment with a long-term and substantial effect on normal day-to-day activities), and considering whether the debtor s personal circumstances warrant them being protected from the consequences of recovery action. The Council s staff and bailiffs will gather sufficient information, when making contact by telephone or in writing or when visiting a debtor s home/business to levy distress, to assist the decision maker in determining the appropriate course of action. Decisions about pursuing bankruptcy, seeking committal to prison or applying for a charging order will be fully recorded and documented and the records will be retained together with the information considered by the decision maker. Written information will be provided to the debtor when bankruptcy/insolvency/committal proceedings are being considered. That information will: warn the debtor of the serious consequences of the action being taken and their continued failure to make arrangements to pay the debt, and urge them to seek independent advice and where that advice can be obtained locally, e.g. CAB. 7.0 Write-off Policy A debt will be written-off as irrecoverable, only after all applicable means of recovery have been tried. All debts will be submitted for write-off in accordance with the attached schedule in Appendix 1 for Council Tax and Appendix 2 for Business Rates. If the debt is in excess of 5,000 it will require the approval of the Corporate Finance Committee. Debts will be written-off for the following reasons: Debtor deceased and there is no money in the estate Absconded and all attempts to trace have failed Uneconomic to pursue Statute barred Bankrupt/Insolvent and there is no prospect of any dividend Committed to prison

6 Debtor deceased: The bill will be sent to the estate of the debtor following notification of the death. If there is no money in the estate the debt will be submitted for write off. Debtor absconded: The following records will be checked before writing-off the debt: Council Tax records Electoral Role Benefit records Landlord/owner/agent New owner/occupier Local authority for previous address or any forwarding address. Experian debtor trace If no trace can be found of the debtor then the debt will be considered for write off six months after absconding. Uneconomic to pursue: These debts will either be of low amounts that are not worth chasing or for larger amounts where all other avenues of recovery have been attempted but payment could not be enforced. Statute barred debts: Regulations impose a 6 year limit upon the instigation of legal proceedings as debts cannot legally be pursued after the Council has failed to pursue the debtor for at least 6 years. Bankrupt/Insolvent: These debts are automatically submitted for write-off once the official bankruptcy/insolvency forms are received from the receivers confirming there is no prospect of a dividend. Committed to prison: If the debtor has been sentenced to imprisonment the debt will normally be written-off as there is no further remedy.

7 Appendix 1 COUNCIL TAX Unless there are mitigating circumstances, all outstanding debts should be dealt with as follows: OUTSTANDING BALANCES CLOSED ACCOUNTS STAGE ACTION More than 0.99 All Bills produced Send bill for values of 1 plus Values of less than 1 can be w/o without reference (Copy of screen to DCO) 5.00 to 9.99 REMINDER produced for (Depending on lower value as values of 9.99 and more. at the end of the year this can (will be done on bulk as per be set to 5.00) Last Reminder run of the end-of-year timetable) year will be for debts of 5.00 and more If individual account w/o copy of screen to DCO 9.99 or more REMINDER produced Send Reminder Less than the value of costs to be raised at Summons stage Equal to or greater than Summons costs SUMMONS not produced for to (These will be picked up on Summons pre-list. Value of debt before Summons costs applied) SUMMONS produced for or more (Value of debt before Summons costs applied) (Copy of screen to DCO) Send Summons Summons costs of will be incurred at this stage If an account has full CTB due to JSA, Pension Credit or Income Support, discretion can be used to apply for a Summons without costs. The Recovery Officer must be made aware of the situation. Equal to or greater than costs to be raised at Liability Order stage If in receipt of JSA or Pension Credit, discretion can be used to apply for LO without costs LIABILITY ORDER obtained for debts of or more (Value of debt before Liability Order costs applied) Apply for Liability Order If granted, additional costs of will be incurred. Total costs incurred come to 97.00

8 Appendix 1 Less than the value of costs to Less than be raised at Liability Order Recovery Manager to pick up stage on Court List of accounts (copy of screen to Date summonsed but debt reduced Control Officer) OUTSTANDING BALANCES CLOSED ACOUNTS STAGE ACTION Equal to or greater than the 14 DAY LETTERS produced Send letter or more (May have the situation where only costs are left unpaid) Outstanding debt less than the Equal to or less than (Copy of screen to DCO) Equal to or greater than the BAILIFF INSTRUCTION Refer to Bailiff or more (May have the situation where only costs are left unpaid) Outstanding debt less than Equal to or less that the Equal to or greater than the ATTACHMENT OF Refer for Attachment of EARNINGS ORDER Earnings or more Outstanding debt equal to or DEDUCTIONS FROM Apply for deductions greater than the value of total JSA, IS or PENSION costs (if costs had been CREDITS applied) Outstanding debt less than Equal to or less that the (if costs applicable) (Copy of screen to DCO) Equal to or greater than the MEANS ENQUIRY LETTER Send letter or more

9 Appendix 1 Outstanding debt Less than the Equal to or less that (Copy of screen to Data Control Officer) Ceased accounts with debit values of 0.01 to can be written off without reference to the Corporate Head of Finance. Appropriate paperwork needs to be given to the Data Control Officer for checking. Ceased accounts with debit values equal to or greater than and up to 5,000 must have a write-off sheet completed and must be authorised by the Corporate Head of Finance. Write-offs of over 5,000 must be submitted to the Corporate Management Committee for their consideration.

10 Appendix 2 BUSINESS RATES Unless there are mitigating circumstances, all outstanding debts should be dealt with as follows: OUTSTANDING BALANCES CEASED ACCOUNTS STAGE ACTION Equal to or less than 4.99 BILL Send if appropriate 5.00 or more Send bill 5.00 to 9.99 REMINDER Send if appropriate or more Send reminder Less than the value of costs SUMMONS Send if appropriate to be raised at summons to stage Equal to or greater than or more Send summons summons costs (value of debt before Summons costs of summons costs applied) will be incurred at this stage Equal to or greater than costs LIABILITY ORDER Apply for liability order to be raised at liability order or more If granted, additional costs of stage (value of debt before liability will be incurred. Total order costs applied) costs incurred come to Less than the total value of Less than costs to be raised at liability order stage

11 Appendix 2 Equal to or greater than the Outstanding debt less than the 14 DAY LETTER or more (may have the situation where only costs are left unpaid) Less than Send letter OUTSTANDING BALANCES Ongoing Accounts STAGE ACTION Equal to or greater than the BAILIFF INSTRUCTION or more (may have the situation where only costs are left unpaid) Refer to Bailiff Outstanding debt less than the Less than Equal to or greater than the Outstanding debt less than the MEANS ENQUIRY LETTER or more Less that Send Letter Ceased accounts with debit values of 0.01 to can be written off without reference to the Corporate Head of Finance. Ceased accounts with debit values equal to or greater than and up to 5, must have a write off sheet completed and must be authorised by the Corporate Head of Finance. Write offs of over 5, must be submitted to the Corporate Management Committee for their consideration.

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