WILTSHIRE COUNCIL CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE RECOVERY OF LOCAL TAXATION DEBT

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1 WILTSHIRE COUNCIL CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE RECOVERY OF LOCAL TAXATION DEBT

2 WILTSHIRE COUNCIL CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE RECOVERY OF LOCAL TAXATION DEBT CONTENTS 1. BACKGROUND DEFINITIONS DEBTORS RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS THE COUNCIL S RESPONSIBILITIES RECOVERY PROCESS PRIOR TO INSTRUCTING A BAILIFF PROFESSIONALISM AND CONDUCT OF BAILIFFS PARTICULARS OF BAILIFF ACTION TIMES AND HOURS INFORMATION: QUALITY, AVAILABILITY AND CONFIDENTIALITY COMPLAINTS AND DISCIPLINE TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION COMPLIANCE, CONTROL, REMOVAL AND SALE OF GOODS STATUTORY OR FINANCIAL REQUIREMENTS FOR BAILIFF COMPANIES APPENDIX 1- PAYMENT ARRANGEMENTS & PAYMENTS RECEIVED APPENDIX 2 - BAILIFF FEES AND CHARGES APPENDIX 3 - WARRANTS APPENDIX 4 - ITEMS THAT MUST NOT BE LISTED, SEIZED, REMOVED OR SOLD APPENDIX 5 - OPERATIONAL REVIEW GROUP: TERMS OF REFERENCE AND MEMBERSHIP APPENDIX 6 - ORGANISATIONS CONSULTED... WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 2 of

3 1. BACKGROUND The purpose of this document is to outline the policies and practices of Wiltshire Council (the Council) in relation to the collection of Council Tax and Business Rate arrears. This Code of Practice (the Code) aims to ensure that the collection of Council Tax and Business Rates arrears is undertaken in a manner which is consistent, accountable and fair. In drawing up the Code the Council has consulted both local independent debt advice agencies and bailiff companies. (The list of those consulted is contained in Appendix 6). The Code is written to comply with the statutory provisions and duties of: the Taking Control of goods Regulations SI1894/2013 the Taking Control of goods(fees) regulations SI 1/2014 the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992/613 (as amended), the Non Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Local Lists) Regulations 1989/1058 (as amended), the Data Protection Act 1998, and the Equality Act Any doubt over the interpretation of the law needs to be referred to Wiltshire Council for reconsideration. The Code is also written to take account of and accommodate the following external guidance: the National Standards for Enforcement Agents published in 2002 by the Lord Chancellor s Department (now the Department for Constitutional Affairs); the Collection of council tax arrears good practice protocol published in 2009 by Citizens Advice and approved by the Local Government Association; and BS18477:2010 Inclusive service provision Requirements of identifying and responding to consumer vulnerability published in 2010 by the British Standards Institution. 2. DEFINITIONS In the context of this Code, a debtor is a person who has a legal obligation to pay Council Tax or Business Rates but, for whatever reason, has failed to do so. But they also have rights when bailiffs are instructed to recover those debts. Priority debts are those where a debtor may lose their possessions, accommodation or could be sent to prison if the debts are not paid. Serious hardship or detriment is defined as leaving the debtor being unable to provide food, heating, accommodation, clothing, medical treatment, education or other necessities for themselves or their family, or other people for whom they are responsible, or to pay other priority debts. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 3 of

4 An affordable payment is defined as an amount that can be paid by the debtor without imposing serious hardship or detriment to the debtor or their dependents. Affordable and sustainable payments are defined as amounts that can be maintained by the debtor without imposing serious hardship or detriment to them or their dependents, until the debt is repaid or written off (excepting changes in circumstances). A control of goods order allows the bailiff to list the debtor s goods for seizure,but allows the debtor to keep and use the goods on the condition that payments are made to a regular payment arrangement. A control of goods order marks a contract between the debtor and the bailiffs. The debtor on the one hand acknowledges that the bailiffs have control over the goods, and the bailiffs on the other hand agree not to remove the goods, giving the debtor time to make repayments as per the agreement. 3. DEBTORS RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS For a definition of a debtor and their obligations please see paragraph 2.1 above. A summary of debtors rights in regards to bailiffs and Council Tax (including the charges and fees that can be made) can be found at: council_tax Further advice about bailiffs and Council Tax debts can be found from: National Debt Line: or on Citizens Advice: or on THE COUNCIL S RESPONSIBILITIES The Council s first responsibility is to seek to recover the debt as quickly as reasonably practicable without imposing serious hardship or detriment 1 to the debtor or their dependents. The Council will, prior to forwarding any debt to the bailiff, examine every option other than bailiff action in order to maximise the effectiveness of the bailiff s action and to avoid where ever possible those who are most vulnerable having to deal with a bailiff at their door. (See section 5 Recovery Process Prior to Instructing a Bailiff below.) Vulnerability: 2 A debtor may be vulnerable or at risk of being vulnerable for a number of reasons including changes in their needs or circumstances especially if they are faced with a particularly urgent or complex issue. The Council recognises that it, the bailiff companies it uses and individual bailiffs have a key role in ensuring that the vulnerable and socially excluded are protected. Therefore it commits itself and all parties carrying out arrears collection activities to: 1 See definition of serious hardship and detriment at 2.3 above 2 Paragraphs on vulnerability are adapted from British Standards Institution, BS18477:2010 Inclusive service provision Requirements for identifying and responding to consumer vulnerability WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 4 of

5 Identifying and recognising signs of vulnerability in the debtor or their dependents so that debtors who are at risk of detriment or disadvantage can be offered a fair and good quality service which can be adapted to suit their particular needs and abilities; Making sufficient resources available for the effective identification and assistance of those considered vulnerable; Ensuring that information required by all debtors and other service users is available in accessible formats (see section 9 Information: Quality, Availability and Confidentiality for further details); Conducting business in language (whether written or spoken) which is plain and easily intelligible and adapted to the needs of debtors and other service users. Ensuring that staff who deal directly with debtors and their representatives are able to identify potential debtor vulnerability using a risk factors and triggers approach. The Code recognises risk factors that can cause consumers to be vulnerable for short or long periods and that the severity of these can fluctuate over time depending on context, or on personal circumstances. "Triggers" are signs that consumers might be having some kind of difficulty and/or need additional assistance. They might be things that the consumer says or does that might indicate that further investigation is needed. The role of the bailiff is therefore to determine the most appropriate action in each case taking into consideration the factors below. Although not an exhaustive list, common risk factors are: a) age, especially those over the age of 70 or over 60 and in sheltered accommodation; b) disability or other impairment; c) mental health issues; d) long term or serious illness; e) low income, e.g. those who are unemployed and/or on benefits; f) poverty and hardship; g) sudden change of circumstances, e.g. bereavement, divorce, illness, loss of employment, recently having given birth or adopted h) poor basic skills: literacy and numeracy; i) caring responsibilities; j) single parent families; k) pregnant women; l) difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English; m) recently having left the armed forces; n) recently being released from a custodial sentence; o) recently suffered or suffering domestic violence; p) being in a refuge or safe house. Council and bailiff company staff shall be trained and supported so that they are able to identify the needs of individuals and the presence of any risk factors that could effect their access to the organisations services. Staff should understand that not everyone with particular risk factors will necessarily be vulnerable in any or all circumstances. The Council and bailiff company shall therefore ensure that staff are able to identify, without intrusive questioning, the needs of individual debtors in a range of ways, such as: a) Checking the debtor understands and can act on the information provided; WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 5 of

6 b) Determining whether the debtor has any particular requirements or preferences for communicating; c) Establishing whether the debtor is able to access the various services required such as payment facilities or has any particular requirements for doing so; d) Establishing whether the debtor has any particular requirements regarding the format of bills and information materials. (See Appendix 1 (AP1.6) for further details of checks to be made by bailiffs.) Once Council staff have identified a debtor or one of their dependents who could be vulnerable they shall establish the cause of the problem and offer relevant help and assistance to provide a solution. The bailiff will allow reasonable time for the debtor deemed vulnerable to seek assistance from the relevant agencies and take advice. For further guidance on providing services to vulnerable people see BS18477:2010 Inclusive service provision Requirements for identifying and responding to consumer vulnerability (British Standards Institution, 2010) Where the debt has already been sent for bailiff action, if the Council becomes aware that the debtor or one of their dependents falls within the categories referred to in paragraph 4.3 (above), they will ensure that the bailiff company is also made aware of this information. In general, the Council will seek to engage with debtors using various means up to and including contact with individual bailiffs in order to ensure payment of debts. It is sometimes the case that a debtor s first point of engagement is when a bailiff comes to their door. If this is the case the bailiff concerned will conduct an assessment of the debtor s situation, possible vulnerabilities, needs and their ability to pay on behalf of the Council (see Appendix 1 (AP1.6) below for further details). The Council recognises the Common Financial Statement as a standard tool to assess the affordability and sustainability of proposed payments 3 by debtors and will accept it to determine the recovery process in individual cases. In all literature and correspondence relating to arrears it sends to debtors the Council will signpost debtors to independent advice agencies and services, using messages to promote independent external debt advice. The Council and bailiff companies it uses must ensure that legislation restricting enforcement activity to certificated bailiffs is complied with by all parties carrying out arrears collection activities. The Council must not seek payment from a bailiff company, a bailiff or any other party in order to secure a contract. Where a contract exists for bailiff provision, this Code will form part of the specification. The Council must notify the bailiff company of all payments made directly to the Council, ideally on a daily basis. The Council must also inform the bailiff company of any other contacts with the debtor. The Council must not request the suspension of a warrant or make direct payment arrangements with debtors without notifying the bailiff company. 3 See definition of affordable and sustainable payments at 2.5 WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 6 of

7 The Council have a responsibility to tell the debtor that if payment is not made within a specified period of time, action may be taken to enforce payment. The Council will ensure that rapid communication facilities exist between itself, the bailiff company and individual bailiffs. In particular the Council shall provide contact points at appropriate times to enable the bailiff company and individual bailiffs to make essential queries particularly where they have cause for concern. The telephone numbers to be used are as follows. South & East: / North: / West: / The Council shall ensure that there is adequate control and monitoring of the operation of this Code and that bailiff companies and bailiffs comply with it. To this end, the Council shall establish an Operational Review Group to include representatives from Council, bailiff companies and organisations giving independent debt advice in Wiltshire. It is envisaged that the operation of this Code and associated matters will be discussed as agenda items at meetings of this group (see Appendix 5 for full terms of reference and membership). 5. RECOVERY PROCESS PRIOR TO INSTRUCTING A BAILIFF The use of bailiffs will be considered as a last resort for the collection of arrears and only following a thorough assessment of each debtor s situation to ascertain whether bailiff action is appropriate in each individual case. In order to make this assessment the Council will make checks of its records: to confirm that the debt has not been paid; to establish whether the debtor has been granted or has a claim pending for Council Tax Benefit, Housing Benefit, discounts and/or reliefs, where appropriate; to try to establish whether the debtor or the debtor s partner is in receipt of Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, ;Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance or Pension Credit Guarantee; to try to establish whether the debtor or the debtor s partner is working; for any outstanding issues which could affect the amount of debt pending bailiff referral. In addition, where it is feasible, reasonable and practical, the Council will make checks of its own records and also with other agencies and departments (for example Social Services, Housing Services etc) to try to establish whether the debtor has any recorded risk factors that may make them vulnerable (see paragraph 4.3 above for risk factors affecting vulnerability). Having made the checks outlined above and where they reveal the debtor or their partner is in receipt of one or more of the above benefits, or is found to have a history with social services, or is thought to be vulnerable or at risk of being vulnerable (as outlined in 4.3 above), bailiff action may still be taken but other means of engagement and collection may also be used. At the discretion of the Council these means might include: a home visit from an appropriately trained Council officer; WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 7 of

8 seeking an order for attachment of earnings or benefits if deductions are not already in place; use of other payment arrangements at the discretion of the Council. Where no further evidence is found and bailiff action is judged to be appropriate, following an application in the Magistrates Court, a notification (called the Council Tax notice of liability order) will be sent to the debtor advising that a liability order has been obtained. This notification will be in writing and will include: a request for information about their employment status, income and expenditure; a 14 day warning notice of bailiff action; a description of what is happening to them, their options, their obligations, what may happen if they do not pay and the action they can take to avoid it; a summary of payment options and methods including where to make payments; a reference to this Code; contact details of national independent advice agencies, and other resources that can help them resolve their debt issues; contact details for Revenues and Benefits; details of all charges and fees that can be made by bailiffs. 6. PROFESSIONALISM AND CONDUCT OF BAILIFFS Bailiffs must comply with this Code at all times whilst carrying out their duties. Bailiff companies employed by the Council to undertake specific tasks are required to ensure that they, their employees, contractors and agents comply with this Code at all times. All bailiffs must carry: photo identification (ID) from the bailiff company. This must be shown to all debtors at first contact and on each subsequent visit. Their County Court bailiff s certificate. - This must shown to all debtors at first contact and on each subsequent visit. Written authorisation to act on behalf of the Council must also be carried. This must be produced on request. Bailiffs must act within the law at all times and observe all health and safety requirements in carrying out enforcement. Bailiffs must not discriminate on any grounds including those of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation that is likely to make the Council liable or potentially liable to a claim under the Equality Act Bailiffs must carry out their duties in a professional, calm and dignified manner at all times and adopt a polite and respectful attitude toward debtors and other persons they make contact with in the course of their duties. Bailiffs must be aware that they are agents for the Council and should act accordingly. As agents for the Council, bailiffs will, from time to time, be called upon to liaise between debtor and Council. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 8 of

9 Bailiffs must not misrepresent their powers, qualifications, capacities, experience or abilities. Bailiffs will maintain an acceptable standard of dress consistent with the provision of a professional service. Bailiffs should, so far as it is practical, avoid disclosing the purpose of their visit to anyone other than the debtor. All information obtained during the administration and enforcement of warrants must be treated as confidential. Bailiffs should provide clear and prompt information to debtors and where appropriate, to the Council. If it is found that the debtor is residing in a refuge or safe house the bailiff will cease collection and inform the Council. For information about bailiff charges and fees see Appendix PARTICULARS OF BAILIFF ACTION The bailiff s initial contact with a debtor will be with the intention of seeking immediate and full payment of the debt including the Compliance Stage fee liable under statute. (See Appendix 2 for information about fees and charges.) Where a debtor cannot afford to pay the full amount owing, and cannot make an agreement to pay, the bailiff will advance to the enforcement stage and take control of goods,a payment arrangement should still be established, which the bailiff must monitor. (See Appendix 1 below for details of payment arrangements.) For the purposes of taking control of goods, removal or sale, bailiffs shall, without the use of unlawful force, try to gain access to the debtor s goods. The bailiff will produce an inventory of goods taken control of and leave it with the debtor, or at the premises, with any other documents that are required by regulations, statute or this Code. Bailiff companies must ensure that legislation restricting enforcement activity to certificated bailiffs is complied with. Bailiffs have a right to expect to be treated in a civil, polite and honest and nonthreatening manner and with respect and courtesy whilst carrying out their agreed duties. In circumstances where the Council requires it, and always where there have been previous acts or threats of violence by a debtor or someone in their household, a risk assessment should be undertaken by the bailiff company prior to the bailiff attending a debtor s premises. Communication: The bailiff company shall ensure that there is a rapid, effective and reliable means of communication between debtor and bailiff and debtor and bailiff company. The bailiff will provide debtors with contact telephone numbers for themselves and the bailiff company whilst bailiff operations are in progress. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 9 of

10 The bailiff company will ensure that all those in telephone contact with debtor have up to date knowledge of policies and practices, charges and methods of payment. Bailiffs should have in place arrangements for quickly accessing translation services when they are needed such as for the purposes of communicating with the debtor. Where Bailiffs face difficulties in situations where only minority languages are spoken, they should refer the case to the Council. Bailiffs must provide, on request, information in large print or in Braille for debtors with impaired sight. Bailiff companies and their bailiffs must be prepared to deal constructively with both debtors and independent advice agencies working on behalf of debtors by, for example: returning calls promptly; entering into negotiations about payment amounts in good faith; following up payment offers. Bailiffs must have ready access to this Code when visiting debtors so that they can give a copy to the debtor on request. Bailiffs must have ready access to the complaints procedure when visiting debtors so that they can give a copy to the debtor on request. (See section 10 Complaints and Discipline for further details.) Whatever the debtor s status, bailiffs will provide: a clear explanation of the process the debtor is undergoing and the consequence of the seizure of a debtor s goods and clear information about how to access local and national independent debt advice agencies such as National Debtline and Citizens Advice; information about how to contact the Council regarding their debt. Whatever the debtor s status, bailiffs will ensure: the debtor understands the process they will be going through; that debtors are aware of the consequences, including additional charges that will be incurred if payment is not made. (See AP1.6 for further details of bailiff checks and enquiries.) Bailiffs must make no attempt to enter domestic premises if the only persons present are children who are or appear to be under the age of 12. If they have already entered the property they must withdraw immediately. under these circumstances, they are not permitted to make any enquiries. Bailiffs must make no attempt to enter domestic premises if the only person present is, or appears to be, under the age of 18. If they have already entered the property they must withdraw immediately. However, under these circumstances they may enquire when the debtor is likely to return home. Bailiffs must withdraw from premises immediately if one of the Council s designated officers considers it appropriate to do so. Bailiffs will on each and every occasion when a visit is made to a debtor s property, leave a notice detailing the fee charged to date. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 10 of

11 On returning any un-executed warrants (see Appendix 3 for further details about warrants), the bailiff company should report the outcome to the Council and provide further appropriate information, where this is requested. When the bailiff or bailiff company is or becomes aware that the debtor or one of their dependents falls within the vulnerability risk categories referred to in paragraph 4.3 (above), they will cease collection activity and ensure that the Council is also aware of this information and await further instructions. 8. TIMES AND HOURS Bailiffs will be respectful of the religion and culture of others at all times. They should be aware of the dates for religious festivals and carefully consider the appropriateness of undertaking enforcement on any day of religious or cultural observance or during any major religious or cultural festival. Bailiff action can be taken 7 days per week.the Council will use its discretion to extend restrictive periods when appropriate (e.g. to cover Christmas/New Year period and other religious and cultural festivals at the Council s discretion). Enforcement should only be carried out between the hours of 6.00am and 9.00pm at domestic properties, and at any time during trading hours for Business Rates arrears. Visits may only be made outside these times by prior approval of a designated officer of the Council. 9. INFORMATION: QUALITY, AVAILABILITY AND CONFIDENTIALITY The Council, bailiff companies and bailiffs will ensure that all notices and other documentation left or sent to the debtor are neither ambiguous nor misleading and will include all appropriate reference numbers, telephone numbers, and addresses. All notices, correspondence and documentation issued by the Council, bailiff companies and bailiffs must be clear and unambiguous and be approved by the Council prior to use. Copies of the Taking control of Goods Regulations 2013 and this Code must be freely available from individual bailiffs and the offices of the Council and the bailiff company on request. They will also be displayed and available for download on the Council s website. All documentation left with the debtor or at their property will be on pre-printed stationery. Any documents left at the property in the absence of the debtor will be in a sealed plain envelope addressed to the debtor. The Council, the bailiff company and their representatives must maintain strict client confidentiality and comply with Data Protection legislation when handling data and, where appropriate, the Freedom of Information Act. All protocols, standards, procedures, charges and fees shall be freely available and specified in various formats available on request and via the Council s and bailiff company s websites. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 11 of

12 10. COMPLAINTS AND DISCIPLINE Bailiff firms must operate complaints and disciplinary procedures with which bailiffs must be fully conversant. The complaints procedure should be set out in plain English, have a main point of contact, set time limits for dealing with complaints and outline an independent appeal process where appropriate. A register will be maintained to record all complaints. Bailiff companies should make use of the complaints and disciplinary procedure of their professional association, the Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies. Bailiff companies and bailiffs must make available details of their complaints procedure on request or when circumstances indicate it would be appropriate to do so. Facilities should be in place to ensure that the complaints procedure is available in a form that is readily understandable by people with sight difficulties, or whose first language is not English. The bailiff company and their bailiffs will provide a copy of their complaints procedure upon request. 11. TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION Bailiff companies will ensure that all employees, contractors and agents are provided with appropriate training to ensure that they fully understand and are able to act, at all times, within the scope of current legislation. This training should be provided at the commencement of employment and at intervals thereafter to ensure that the agent s knowledge is kept up to date. Bailiff companies must ensure that all employees, contractors and agents will at all times act within the scope of current legislation, i.e. The Companies Act, VAT, Inland Revenue provisions, Data Protection, Health and Safety, The Equality Act etc, and have an appropriate knowledge and understanding of it and be aware of any statutory obligations and provide relevant training. All bailiffs carrying out the lawful acts of listing or seizing and removing goods shall hold a valid Bailiffs certificate issued by the County Court. Bailiffs should be trained to recognise risk factors and triggers that may be signs of vulnerability (see paragraph 4.3 above). Bailiffs should be trained to recognise and avoid potentially hazardous and aggressive situations and to withdraw when in doubt about their own or others safety. 12. LISTING, SEIZURE, REMOVAL AND SALE OF GOODS As a matter of Council Policy, bailiffs, for the purpose of recovering the arrears shall, without the use of unlawful force, try to gain access to the debtor s goods. The bailiff WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 12 of

13 may take control and remove the debtor s goods wherever they are found, subject to the Council s instructions. An inventory of such items must be prepared and a copy should be given to the debtor. The Council will provide the bailiff with authority to take control of debtors goods on its behalf. When the bailiff has listed and claimed any allowable goods, the debtor should be invited to sign a control of goods agreement. If the debtor refuses to sign, or refuses to make payment, or defaults on payment, the goods should, subject to contrary instruction from the Council, be removed at the earliest opportunity. Where goods are seized, bailiffs should advise the debtor in writing at the time of seizure how they may recover the goods. An inventory must be taken of all goods removed, a copy of which will be handed to the debtor if present. If the debtor is not in attendance, the inventory will be left in a prominent position. This inventory must include a full description of the item and must list any obvious defects apparent before removal. If the bailiff cannot get access to the debtors goods they are permitted to set up a payment arrangement without one. The bailiff companies will ensure that the removal of goods is always supervised by a certificated bailiff. In all cases where control and removal takes place, whether by actual or via a control of goods agreement, the bailiff shall produce that authority to any person having good reason to require sight of it. In all cases the appropriate documentation as required by regulations is to be left at the premises or given to the debtor. Bailiff companies will seek further authorisation from the Council prior to any removal of goods or vehicles. The Council will then again check its records for any recent correspondence and any details of the debtor s current circumstances and will provide authorisation in appropriate cases. Due care will be exercised to avoid unnecessary damage and goods will be handled with due care and attention and properly secured for the purposes of transporting them. The employer of the bailiff shall also ensure that the goods are adequately insured, so that if damage occurs during transit, this is covered by the policy, and will ensure that the goods are safely stored pending sale. The employer of the bailiff shall take all steps possible to obtain the best price and shall impose a reserve price at any auction when required to do so by the Council, under this Code or otherwise. The employer of the bailiff shall consider whether an auction is the appropriate method of obtaining the best price and in particular shall do so where the item concerned is of a specialist nature or of particular value. Upon request the employer of the bailiff shall report the place and timing of the sale to the debtor at least seven clear days before such sale is to take place. Where a sale has taken place, the designated officer or the external bailiff company shall report to the debtor the place and time of the sale that took place and the prices of each item which has been sold. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 13 of

14 Bailiffs should take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the value of the goods impounded is proportional to the value of the debt and charges owed. Bailiffs should not list, seize or remove items that are to all intents and purposes valueless. If the debtor does not own items of sufficient value to recover the debt and associated fees the bailiff should refer the debt back to the Council. Bailiffs must only remove goods in accordance with all appropriate regulations, and this Code. Bailiffs must obey the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 as amended by SI 1993/773, which outlines items protected from listing and seizure. (See Appendix 4 for a list of items that must not be listed, seized, removed or sold.) 13. STATUTORY OR FINANCIAL REQUIREMENTS FOR BAILIFF COMPANIES Bailiff companies must ensure that audited accounts are kept and available on request. An audit of the firm s accounts by independent accountants should be undertaken at least once a year for businesses where this is appropriate. Bailiff companies must comply with all statutory obligations. A separate account for monies due to the Council should be maintained. In addition, accurate books and accounts should be kept and made available to establish monies owed to the Council. Bailiff companies must keep a complete record of all financial transactions. Bailiff companies must maintain suitable and comprehensive insurance cover for both professional indemnity and other risks including employer s liability and public liability. Insurance requirements must actively be re-visited each year to the satisfaction of the Council, and to ensure adequate and appropriate arrangements are in place. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 14 of

15 APPENDIX 1- PAYMENT ARRANGEMENTS & PAYMENTS RECEIVED AP1.1. Council Tax debts ideally need to be cleared within the financial year they are referred, to assist in year collection, wherever appropriate; however this may be impractical dependent on when in a year a case is referred, what the amount outstanding is, and what the debtor s circumstances are. Therefore, repayment periods of up to one year may be offered at the bailiff s sole discretion, and arrangements exceeding this period must be referred to the Council for agreement. AP1.2. The bailiff is entitled to add the statutory fees. (See Appendix 2 for information about fees and charges.) AP1.3. The bailiff must not take control of goods if payment of the appropriate amount is made at compliance stage. Before any payment is taken the bailiff must try to assess whether such payment is affordable 4 for the debtor and would not lead to a serious hardship or detriment 5 for them or their dependents. AP1.4. Official, numbered company receipts must be given in all instances where payment is received in person by a bailiff. The receipt must state the date and the exact amount received, the method of payment, and confirmation of any balance outstanding. The bailiff must advise the debtor to keep all receipts in the event that they are required to verify payment. AP1.5. Where the bailiff receives payment by post, an official receipt will be despatched to debtor when requested. The receipt will be dispatched within 5 working days. AP1.6. Bailiff assessment: Where bailiff contact is the debtor s first point of engagement or where the debtor claims full payment is not possible the bailiff should seek to assess the reason for this and judge whether taking control of goods is likely to be necessary. In making such an assessment the bailiff should try to establish whether a debtor is: in employment and if so, the name of the employer; in receipt of benefits including Council Tax Benefit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance or Pension Credit Guarantee; unemployed, and if so whether claims have been made for state benefits and Council Tax Benefit or Housing Benefit; able to afford to pay the full amount and, if not, whether they can pay a smaller affordable lump sum amount; able to pay smaller affordable and sustainable regular amounts; vulnerable or at risk of being vulnerable; able to make the payments required without serious hardship or detriment. They should also establish the needs of the debtor by: a) Checking they understand and can act on the information provided; b) Determining whether they have any particular requirements or preferences for communicating; c) Establishing whether they are able to access the various services required such as payment facilities or has any particular requirements for doing so; d) Establishing whether they have any particular requirements regarding the format of bills and information materials; e) Determining which are the best payment dates for a payment arrangement. 4 See definition of an affordable payment at See definition of serious hardship or detriment at 2.3 WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 15 of

16 If the bailiff has details of the debtor s employer and is unable to collect the debt, the bailiff company shall give this information to the Council so that they may issue an Attachment of Earnings Order. If the bailiff considers the debtor s circumstances are such that they may be eligible for some form of benefit but have not applied, the bailiff should encourage the debtor to make an application and contact the Council and/or an independent debt advice agency. In a case where the bailiff has reason to believe that the debtor is vulnerable or has risk factors that may lead them to be vulnerable (as explained in para 2.3 above) they must cease all arrears collection activity immediately and seek further advice and guidance from the Council. In a case where the debtor s ability to pay is in question the bailiff must inform the Council and if appropriate refer the debtor to an independent advice agency so that an assessment using the Common Financial Statement can be carried out. If the debtors main household income is Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit Guarantee, the bailiff needs to obtain their National Insurance number and date of birth, and should make a payment arrangement with the debtor to pay no more than the current rate of an attachment to income based benefit ( 3.65 p/w as at April 2014). In the event of the arrangement failing, the case should be returned to the Council, which will set up a formal deduction with the DWP. In cases where the Council request the case to be returned for deductions from benefit, the case should be put on indefinite hold. If the deductions are successful and the debt is collected the Council will request the case to be returned. If deductions are not successful the Council will advise on any further action required. If the debtor works but their income is only equivalent to Income Support, Jobseekers, PCG or ESA levels, and the bailiff is shown evidence to this effect, an arrangement needs to be made that is no more than the deductions usually secured through attachments to these benefits, which is 3.65 per week. Where there is an on-going liability and the attachment to benefit covers previous years arrears, the bailiff will secure an affordable arrangement for the on-going liability in addition to the 3.65 attachment. AP1.7. If, following a bailiff s assessment (outlined in AP1.6 above), the debtor is judged not to have risk factors that may lead to vulnerability (as outlined in para 4.3 above) and is not in employment or in receipt of benefits, or their claim is not pending, and they cannot afford to pay the full amount owing, but are judged able to make regular smaller payments, a regular payment arrangement that is both affordable and sustainable 6 for the debtor will be put in place. AP1.8. Such a payment arrangement must not include any payment that is larger than the regular sustainable amount agreed with the debtor. AP1.9. If, following a bailiff s assessment (outlined in paragraph AP1.6 above), the debtor is judged not to have risk factors that may lead to vulnerability (as outlined in paragraph 4.3 above) and is not in employment or in receipt of benefits, or their claim is not pending, and they cannot afford to pay the full amount owing, but are judged able to 6 See definition of affordable and sustainable payments at 2.5 WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 16 of

17 make a smaller lump sum payment, a single one-off amount that is affordable for the debtor can be requested. The bailiff must take special care to ensure that such a request is not interpreted by the debtor as being a condition of setting up a regular payment agreement. AP1.10. Bailiffs must provide an itemised justification for the amounts they charge on request. AP1.11. A payment arrangement must not include any payment that is larger than the regular sustainable amount agreed with the debtor. AP1.12. As a matter of Council policy, in the event of the bailiff not receiving full payment on their first contact, which includes their statutory fee, any payment arrangement ideally needs to be secured by a signed walking possession agreement, 7 however this is not a necessity. AP1.13. Payment arrangements must be confirmed in writing, and give a clear explanation of the total amount due, the repayment amounts and due dates, and the consequences of it not being maintained. AP1.14. Payments may be made on due dates that fit into the pattern of income received by the debtor. AP1.15. Where a debtor offers a payment arrangement that appears to be beyond their means, the bailiff has a responsibility to advise the debtor accordingly. AP1.16. The bailiff has the discretion to issue a maximum of one payment arrangement reminder letter, which will require the arrangement to be brought up to date within five working days and maintained thereafter. AP1.17. At all stages of the recovery process, apart from where the removal of goods has started, debtors are to be encouraged to make a payment arrangement as the Council would wish to avoid the removal of goods unless absolutely necessary. AP1.18. Bailiffs will not suggest that debtors borrow the money they owe from high cost money lenders. AP1.19. The control of goods agreement must specify any goods on the premises, which could be removed, and the bailiff must make it clear to debtors that no goods will be removed if payments are received in accordance with the payment arrangement. Bailiffs should take reasonable steps to ensure that the value of the listed goods is proportional to the debt outstanding. Care must be taken to ensure the goods are not already subject to a levy by a third party. If the debtor refuses to sign the agreement, this must be noted on the document. There may be occasions where no goods are available on which to levy such as where a property is rented fully furnished, or where a levy occurs in the debtor s absence such as where the contact is with a spouse or parent. AP1.20. There will be occasions when the council will direct the bailiff to accept an arrangement and require the bailiff to monitor its payment thereafter. AP1.21. If a debtor defaults on an existing payment arrangement, the bailiff should seek to assess whether the debtor or one of their dependents has undergone a change of circumstances that may make it difficult for them to continue with the level of WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 17 of

18 payments set or if the original levels were too high and re-assess the level of the payment. If an enforcement visit is made the bailiff is entitled to make a further charge. The amount of the Enforcement fee must have been stated in writing in the payment arrangement. AP1.22. Postal payments received by the bailiff prior to the start of a bailiff visit that clear a debt in full must be accepted by the bailiff as final settlement without any additional bailiff fees or charges being added. AP1.. Where the removal of goods is imminent the Council will not accept payment by a non-guaranteed method such as cheque. Cash, credit or debit card are the favoured options. AP1.24. Any online payment facility offered by the bailiff must include the ability for debtors to obtain a receipt for any payment made. AP1.25. There may be occasions where the Council refers an additional liability order to the bailiff, who has an existing arrangement with the debtor. In such instances the bailiff will link to the existing liability order and follow the process. However it is at the bailiffs discretion (dependent on the timing of the additional referral, how much the referral is for, and how much remains to be paid on the original case), as to whether a separate payment arrangement is set up for the new debt or if its payment is scheduled to begin when the existing one ends. In all cases the bailiff must ensure that the total of all payments made remain affordable as defined in 2.4 above. AP1.26. As with Council Tax, there is a similar Business Rates need to collect the amount due within the year it is due. For Business Rates, the process is the same as council tax, and if full payment is not made at compliance stage the preferred time frame is for payment within one month, with the possibility of allowing up to six months at the bailiff s discretion if the debtor s circumstances merit such an extension. Arrangements longer than six months need to be approved by the Council. AP1.27. For Council Tax and Business Rates, if there are sufficient goods and the debtor refuses to make an arrangement, a control of ggods notice must be left confirming that if neither payment in full (including bailiff fees) nor an acceptable payment arrangement is made within five working days, the bailiff will revisit with the intention of removing goods from the sixth day onwards. AP1.28. For Business Rates where the removal of goods may result in the business s closure, or job losses, the bailiff must contact the Council for guidance before action proceeds. AP1.29. If the debtor is unable to make a reasonable payment offer, or has insufficient goods or refuses legal access, the bailiff will return the case to the council with a full report of the circumstances duly certified nulla bonna so further enforcement action may be considered. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 18 of

19 APPENDIX 2 - BAILIFF FEES AND CHARGES AP2.1. There is a combination of fees and charges that can be made by a bailiff as outlined below. Full details are carried on the Council Tax notice of liability order sent to debtors and can also be requested (either in writing or verbally) from the Council, bailiff company or bailiffs. ( the fees will be at Compliance Stage and 5.00 at Enforcement Stage- plus an additional 7.5% fee for any debt over 1500) AP2.2. Fees must be levied in accordance with the regulations laid down by statute. A full and comprehensive breakdown of fees must be provided to any member of the public or service within five working days of their request. AP2.3. Fees must not be added for a future action, although clear information about potential fees that may be incurred for subsequent late or non-payment should be included on documents. AP2.4. All fees incurred must be clearly stated in a legible manner on documentation provided to debtors, with no reference to phrases like ring for balance.. AP2.5. Following a default on a payment arrangement at compliance stage, the case will move to the enforcement stage, AP2.6. The bailiff company and bailiffs will not charge for any correspondence with the debtor and/or for the use of direct debit or standing order facilities or the acceptance of cheques or cash. AP2.7. Payments may be made by cash, cheque, standing order, debit card or credit card. AP2.8. Payments may be made at times that fit into the pattern of income received by the debtor. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 19 of

20 APPENDIX 3 - WARRANTS AP3.1. Following the issue of a committal summons and its subsequent approval by the magistrates, the Council will issue a contact letter to debtors confirming that unless they pay in full or make an arrangement within seven days, bail warrant or warrant of arrest (no bail) enforcement will proceed. AP3.2. If not payment or arrangement is made within the stated seven days, the case will then be issued to the bailiff and action to execute the warrants must begin within a maximum of 28 days. AP3.3. The council will confirm to the bailiff the dates, times and limit on numbers of persons that can attend Court as agreed with the magistrates for scheduled committal hearings where no bail warrants can be executed; the Council will also confirm to the bailiff the dates on which the Court have agreed to accept debtors arrested under bail conditions. AP3.4. When executing a bail warrant the bailiffs must, unless payment in full including fees is received, arrest and bail the debtor to appear before the magistrates on a date agreed with both the Council and the Court. Payment may be by cash, cheque or debit/credit card and in the event of a cheque payment funds must have cleared by the surrender date (i.e. the date the debtor is due in court). AP3.5. When executing bail warrants the bailiff must explain to the debtor the reason for their arrest, full details of the charge outstanding, the type of warrant being executed, the time, date and place of the committal hearing the debtor has been bailed to attend, and the consequences of non-attendance. Documentation must also be left with the debtor that clearly confirms these details. AP3.6. The bailiff must notify the Council of the full details of the bail warrants executed no later than three working days before the hearing. AP3.7. If the debtor refuses to sign a bail warrant the bailiff must return the warrant to the Council, who will return to the Court and apply for a no bail warrant instead. AP3.8. When executing no bail warrants the bailiff must, unless payment in full including fees is received, arrest and escort the debtor to the Court, informing the council without delay of their actions, who in turn will notify the Court that the debtor is being brought in. Payment may be by cash or debit/credit card. In the event of card payment not being honoured further action may continue to execute the warrant. AP3.9. When executing no bail warrants the bailiff should, where possible, inform another member of the debtor s household that an arrest has been made. AP3.10. The bailiff shall, wherever possible, provide a female enforcement officer to either execute or assist in the execution of a no bail warrant whenever the debtor is a female, and provide a male enforcement officer where the debtor is a male. AP3.11. No bail warrants must not be executed where it is apparent that such action would result in children being left unsupervised in a property. WiltshireCouncil_LocalTaxationDebtCodeOfPractice_- amended version Page 20 of

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