CORPORATE DEBT RECOVERY POLICY

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1 CORPORATE DEBT RECOVERY POLICY Charnwood Borough Council February 2005

2 CONTENTS Page No 1. INTRODUCTION 3 2. POLICY AIMS 4 3. KEY PRINCIPLES 5 4. HOW THESE LINK TO THE COUNCIL S CORPORATE PRIORITIES 7 5. DEBTS COVERED BY THIS POLICY 8 6. CODE OF CONDUCT PROCEDURES AND TRAINING MONITORING FUTURE ACTIONS ANNUAL REVIEWS 15 APPENDIX 1 AVAILABLE METHODS OF PAYMENT 16 APPENDIX 2 REFERRRAL OF DEBTORS TO AND FROM THE CITIZENS ADVICE BUREAU 17 APPENDIX 3 COUNCIL TAX RECOVERY PROCESS 18 APPENDIX 4 BUSINESS RATES RECOVERY PROCESS 21 APPENDIX 5 SUNDRY DEBTOR RECOVERY PROCESS 24 APPENDIX 6 HOUSING AND COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT OVERPAYMENT RECOVERY PROCESS 27 2

3 1. INTRODUCTION Effective debt management is crucial to the success of any organisation. The Council needs an effective policy to support the maximisation of debt collection in an efficient manner. Debt is a topical and high profile area in the current economic climate of high personal borrowing. The external audit in 2004 highlighted the absence of a corporate approach to collecting debt, stating, there are no Authority-wide procedures in place over the corporate debt recovery of income due to the Authority. This policy has been designed to address these concerns. Its implementation aims to deliver measurable service improvement and adherence to recognised good practice. Charnwood Borough Council believes its collection and debt recovery policy should be fair to everyone, especially those on low incomes. It is recognised that people do not pay their debts for a variety of reasons. Some people may deliberately set out to delay or not make payments and all methods of enforcement will be used to secure payment in these cases. Some people, because of living in or on the margins of poverty, will have difficulty in paying. The Council will use their best endeavours to help such people and to minimise the impact of debt on them. Some people may be able to pay but do not pay because of an oversight or personal difficulties and not because of a deliberate decision to avoid or delay payment. The Council will seek to help such people develop a culture of payment by encouraging them to get in contact and discuss any difficulties. The need to get in touch is central to the policy. Where a person makes contact their circumstances will be considered with a view to agreeing a reasonable payment arrangement, minimising recovery action and helping to alleviate hardship. Where people fail to make contact or maintain arrangements, recovery action will continue. There are already sound debt recovery procedures in place within the Benefits and Revenues, Housing and Financial Services. This policy provides an overarching framework and covers the collection of Rents, Council Tax, Business Rates, Sundry Debts and Housing and Council Tax Benefit overpayments. 3

4 2. POLICY AIMS The key aims of this policy are as follows: To ensure a professional, consistent and timely approach to recovery action across all of the Council s functions To cost effectively pursue all debts owed to the Council, ensuring that those with the means to pay do pay To consider fully the debtors circumstances and ability to pay and so distinguish between the debtor who won t pay and the debtor who genuinely can t pay To promote a coordinated approach towards sharing debtor information and managing multiple debts owed to the Council To improve the levels of income collected by the Authority To ensure that debts are managed in accordance with legislative provisions and best practice. To treat individuals consistently and fairly regardless of age, sex, gender, disability and sexual orientation and to ensure that individual s rights under Data Protection and Human Rights legislation are protected 4

5 3. KEY PRINCIPLES Our Duty To Collect and Recover Charnwood Borough Council has a legal duty to ensure costeffective billing, collection, and recovery of all sums due to the Council. Many of the statements below are already in place within the collection teams at this authority. An Effective Policy In order for the policy to be effective it is vital to ensure that: Accurate and clear bills are produced promptly Changes in circumstances and applications for exemptions, discounts and relief s are dealt with promptly Benefit entitlements are delivered quickly and accurately Time scales for enforcement action are adhered to The Benefit of a Fair Debt Collection Policy We believe that the policy will: Help identify/recognise deliberate non-payers or people who delay payment Enable people who fall into arrears to come to payment agreements appropriate to their circumstances Make sure that when we take enforcement action it is appropriate and is undertaken in line with the strict legislative framework relevant to the Service. Mean that by being approachable people will be more willing to make contact when they first face difficulties Help to reduce the effect of debt on people on low Income 5

6 The Policy Aims to Take positive action to prevent arrears occurring, for example by providing a range of payment methods Take positive enforcement action in line with legislation against deliberate non-payers or those who delay payment Ensure we bill promptly and remind people quickly if they do not pay Encourage people to make early contact with us to avoid build up of debt Where people have fallen or are likely to fall into arrears, we will work with them and their representatives to set agreed payment levels that they can maintain The Council will work towards adopting a co-ordinated approach with regard to multiple debts 6

7 4. HOW THESE LINK TO THE COUNCIL S CORPORATE PRIORITIES Serving our customers better In identifying genuine hardship, advice on benefits can be given to prevent the situation worsening and may enable a long-term arrangement at an affordable amount. In these cases it is important that consideration should be given to the possible reduction in overall collection rates and subsequent drop in Best Value Performance Indicators. With the debtor s consent, all their debts to the Council can be taken into consideration when making an arrangement, reducing the possible level of distress where different Council services are each seeking to recover debts. Any such action will be carried out within the constraints of the Data Protection Act. Investing in our capacity to deliver Prompt recovery action against debtors with the means to pay will improve debt collection rates and benefit the council s financial resources Opportunities will be created to strengthen our partnership with the Citizens Advice Bureau, Bridge Housing Advice Centre and other welfare and Money Advice Centres to create consistent and improved working practices across the Council. 7

8 5. DEBTS COVERED BY THIS POLICY The main service units involved in debt recovery are Finance Revenues and Benefits and Housing Services. The debts involved are primarily: Council Tax National Non Domestic Rates Rent Overpaid Housing Benefit Sundry Debts The policy will apply to all service units of the Council and focus on collecting the charge set rather than how the charge is arrived at. Ability to pay is a paramount concern when considering debt recovery. For Council Tax and Rent, statutory benefits are provided on application, which are designed to offset the effects of low income on ability to pay. Charging policy, statutory or discretionary will never completely remove the problems of people and families on low incomes. The approach to recovery must therefore be sensitive to individual circumstances and take into account multiple debts owed. However in order to promote equality of action in terms of recovery procedures we will not be making special cases in these cases. See Appendix 1 for details of the volumes of activity involved in each major debt stream. THE LEGAL AND POLICY FRAMEWORK FOR RECOVERY Charnwood Borough Council has a legal duty to ensure cost effective billing, collection and recovery of all sums due to the Council. This policy is in addition to existing legislation and will enhance the procedures already in place to collect debt. This debt recovery policy is concerned primarily with the recovery of debts prior to legal action being taken but the principles should still be applied wherever appropriate even if litigation has commenced. 8

9 LOCAL TAXATION Council Tax recovery procedures are laid down by statute in The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 and subsequent amendments. National Non-Domestic Rates recovery procedures are laid down by statute in The Local Government Finance Act 1988 and subsequent regulations and amendments. Charnwood Borough Council appoints bailiffs to recover local taxation arrears in accordance with our own code of conduct. Only certificated bailiffs can levy distress for local taxation and fees charged to the debtor are governed by legislation. HOUSING BENEFITS Housing Benefit overpayments are reclaimed in accordance with Regulations of The Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987 (as amended). In addition there are Debt Recovery Procedures in place where Housing Benefit has been overpaid and is no longer in payment. HOUSING RENTS The Council has some existing procedures covering the recovery of existing tenant and former tenant arrears. MISCELLANEOUS INCOME Sundry Debt arrears are collected within a well-established framework, but currently without written guidelines and in varied timescales. On certain debts, interest may be charged and costs incurred. The debtor will be made aware of any additional costs in advance so that they have the opportunity to avoid this wherever possible. 9

10 6. CODE OF CONDUCT Full names, contact address and a phone number will be established wherever possible prior to service provision or invoicing/billing. All Council bills and invoices will be raised as soon as practicable on a daily basis and will include clear, relevant and full information as to: What the bill is for When payment is due How to pay How to contact the Council if there is a query in relation to the bill or in relation to making payment All letters and reminders will: Be written in plain English Explain fully what has been agreed and the consequences of non-payment Include appropriate contact details Debtors will be encouraged to make prompt contact if they disagree with a bill or have difficulty in making payment on time. Contact can be made by: Telephone Letter Fax In person at the Customer Service Centre Problems and bill discrepancies raised will be resolved as quickly as possible to prevent unnecessary delays in payment and incorrect debits. 10

11 All debtors seeking help due to financial difficulties will: Be given the opportunity to have their ability to pay assessed by the relevant collection unit Be invited to provide details of their means by listing their income and outgoings. (Evidence to confirm the accuracy of the means statement will be requested if necessary) Be encouraged to use the money advice services available from within the Borough Be asked if they have other debts owing to the Council that they also wish to be considered Be given access to the Council s interpreter service if required Consideration will be given to whether the debt can firstly be attached to earnings or benefits, the priority of the debts owed and the level of repayments currently being made prior to legal proceedings commencing. If a specific recovery action has already commenced e.g. attachment of earnings or bailiff action, the action taken will usually continue. However, any arrears not included in the action will be considered in line with existing arrangements and this policy. If it is found that the debtor has the ability to pay, but refuses to pay, then recovery action will continue promptly within the existing arrangements for the type of debt. There is some difficulty in identifying wont pays and cant pays. In the collection of Council Tax and NNDR it is current practice to obtain a liability order initially. This provides the legal right to insist on the provision of financial information. This methodology makes the practice more workable. If it is found that the debtor is suffering severe hardship or has difficulty managing their own affairs, the following will be considered: Can we reduce the debt? Are they entitled to take up relevant benefits, discounts, exemptions and reductions to minimise the potential for debt accrual? 11

12 Does the debtor owe money to other Council collection units? If so the debtor will be advised that, with their consent, all their Council debts may be taken into consideration when deciding on an arrangement. The advantage to the debtor in making a common arrangement is that they may save time and costs. However, it is for the debtor to decide if this is an option they want to pursue. Can we hold recovery action and offer to refer cases to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)? This will suspend additional costs to allow reasonable time for the CAB to assist the debtor and if necessary prepare a financial statement for them. However it should be noted that this would not be practical in collection of Council Tax and NNDR, as this would severely restrict the efficient collection of debt. The procedure currently in place requires the authority to obtain a liability order initially and then discuss payment arrangements. The failure to obtain the liability order limits the powers of recovery and would not be appropriate. There should be further discussion as to what the approach the Council would take if a debtor were to take up the offer to deal with all Council debts collectively. Corporate Debt Recovery action should be co-ordinated by a team working independently of the existing Service Units. This would allow the Council to take a holistic approach to collection without prejudice to individual collection units. It is important to state at this time that any such team would need to formulate a policy to cover such areas as: Agreed formula for apportionment of debt Would that formula depend on the Size of the debt? If so how would the size of debt be measured? In pure financial terms, as a percentage of the weekly, monthly or annual charge Or by some other means? Would the formula be varied in unusual or extreme situations (for example if the debtor was due to be evicted, would payment of rent become a priority. How would this formula transpose into collection rates in terms of BVPI s and any resulting decrease in performance be accepted in line with improved Service to Customers Where liability is continuous e.g. Council Tax, any arrangement made will normally require payments over and above the ongoing monthly liability. Future instalments must be paid when due as a condition of the arrangement. 12

13 If only the current year s bill is owed, arrangements should require payment within the financial year (at the latest) whenever possible. Longer-term arrangements for older arrears will be strictly monitored and reviewed. If there is no improvement by the review date and if the amount payable cannot be reduced (by awarding Council Tax Benefit etc), the Council will reserve the right to continue with legal action, and in the case of Local Taxation, obtain a liability order from the magistrates court. This is to protect the Council s interests and prevent the debt from becoming statute barred and irrecoverable. Nevertheless regular contact with the debtor is encouraged and part payments will be accepted to reduce the overall debt. Furthermore it is not in the debtors best interest to have a long term arrangement when liability is continuous, since the level of debt will increase as time goes by and the debtors situation deteriorate rather than improve. If a debtor is receiving Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance, and attachment to a DWP benefit is possible this will usually limit the recovery to 2.80 per week for Council Tax Benefit and 8.40 per week for Housing Benefit overpayments. Where appropriate, a separate agreement will be made for additional debts and liability orders depending on the individual s circumstances. Debtors given time to pay will be advised to contact the Council immediately should they experience a change of circumstances affecting their ability to pay. This is to discuss the options available to prevent recovery action and additional costs. If a debtor fails to cooperate by: Refusing to provide details of their means, and/or Not consenting to multiple debts being dealt with together, and/or Failing to pay a special arrangement on time without contact Then recovery action will be taken promptly in the normal way. 13

14 LIMITATIONS ON DEBT RECOVERY The Council retains the services of an in-house Bailiff team. The use of external bailiffs in some cases requires those companies to adhere to a code of conduct requiring them to refer to the council, before proceeding to take action, in the following circumstances: The debtor appears to be over 70 years old The debtor is severely ill or disabled The debtor has young children and severe deprivation is evident The debtor is currently consulting his or her Councillor or MP It should be noted that it is current practice to not forward any cases to external bailiffs where the information stated above is already known. Referrals to external bailiffs in the collection of NNDR and Council Tax are currently based on age of debt and, if the whereabouts of the taxpayer is out of the area 7. PROCEDURES AND TRAINING Although there are variations in the procedures relating to different debt streams, they must reflect the Council s requirement for the corporate approach to recovering debt set out in this policy. This policy will be made available to all staff dealing with income collection and recovery. This will be reinforced with training and management supervision of all staff involved in collecting debt. 8. MONITORING There will be a requirement for ensuring that this policy is adhered to and effective. Management information will be required for each debt stream on a monthly basis. The numbers of long-term arrangements, CAB referrals and multiple debt management will be recorded. Internal Audit will test compliance with this policy in future reviews. Regular meetings between responsible officers nominated by each service will be held on a quarterly basis. 14

15 9. FUTURE ACTIONS It is intended to share bad/doubtful debtor information across the authority. This is in order to adopt a customer-centred approach by managing debts holistically. Data Protection issues are paramount in being able to deliver an effective service. The Authority has received legal advice that the Secondary use of Council Tax data is permissible for this purpose. It is hoped to reduce the number of sundry debt invoices by implementing alternative payment methods e.g. obtaining payment up front for services. Direct Debit will be introduced for sundry debtor invoices as part of the introduction of the new financial systems during the 2005/6 financial year. 10. ANNUAL REVIEWS It is important that the Council should monitor its performance in applying its Corporate Enforcement Policies so that it can assess the impact and effectiveness of its Policies and ensure that those Policies are assisting the Council in meeting its aims and objectives in each respective service area. All Enforcement Policies will therefore be reviewed annually and this alongside the Council's annual service plans will provide a basis for measuring implementation and improvement of those Policies. Policies will also be the subject of periodic consultation processes eg with relevant bodies and organisations. 15

16 AVAILABLE METHODS OF PAYMENT DIRECT DEBIT APPENDIX 1 This is already promoted as the preferred method of payment for Local Taxation since it is the easiest and cheapest method of collection. Housing will also have the facility for Direct Debit payments in 2005 with Sundry debts following later in the year. DEBIT/CREDIT CARD Debit/Credit Card payments will be encouraged to avoid late payment, where appropriate. The cards we accept are Switch, Visa, and MasterCard. Payment by Electron can be made at the counter but not by telephone. 24 HOURS A DAY It is anticipated that during 2005 Payment will be able to be made 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by Debit/Credit Card by: Telephone Online Payment Card At a choice of locations using a swipe card provided by the Council. Post Offices, Paypoint, or PayZone outlets accept the cards Direct Banking POST By cheque (cash should not be sent in the post) payable to: IN PERSON At the Council Offices Charnwood Charnwood Borough Council Monday to Thursday (16.00 on Friday) 16

17 APPENDIX 2 REFERRAL OF DEBTORS TO AND FROM THE CITIZENS ADVICE BUREAU Services will encourage all debtors seeking help due to financial difficulties to use the services provided by the Citizens Advice Bureau and other Money Advice Centres. This will be offered: During interview During telephone conversation In leaflets, reminders and other recovery documents issued by the Council On the Council s website PROCEDURE TO FOLLOW All Money Advice Centres and Council Staff will use an agreed method of identification before disclosing financial details. Discussions with third parties will only be undertaken with the consent of the customer. It is anticipated that in 2005 on-line access to accounts and financial details will be available to all customers and third parties in line with the ODPM e.government requirements for all Local Authorities. 17

18 COUNCIL TAX RECOVERY PROCESS APPENDIX 3 Explanation of Recovery terms REMINDER - A document issued when an instalment Is overdue FINAL NOTICE - A document issued when an account is in arrears and there is no right to pay by instalments SUMMONS - A document issued summoning the person to Magistrates Court when there has been no satisfactory response to one of the above or when the account is in arrears for the third time.at Court the Council will make an application for a Liability Order to be granted. LIABILITY ORDER - The Magistrates will grant a Liability Order if they are satisfied, the Council Tax is outstanding. The order gives the Council the power to take further action if the account remains unpaid. The main options are: Attachment of earnings or benefit (Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance) Referral to the Bailiffs who have the power to remove and sell goods Committal to prison Where payments due have not been made the Council will take the following action: a Reminder is issued which requires the account to be brought up to date within seven days. When a first reminder is issued on an account staff can exercise their discretion by allowing a short period of time for payments to be brought up to date without progressing to the next stage of enforcement. Alternatively they may re-schedule a person s payment plan to commence or finish at a slightly later date. Short-term holds may be placed on the account whilst queries regarding discounts, exemptions or benefits are resolved. When there is no response to the reminder within 14 days a summons may be issued. 18

19 If the person brings the account up to date within seven days but falls into arrears a second time a second reminder is issued and the arrangement may be re-negotiated but the recovery procedure will continue up to a Liability Order being granted. If the arrangement is being maintained then no further action will be taken. Only two reminders are issued on an account in any financial year. If an account is brought up to date on two occasions but falls in to arrears for a third time the legal right to pay by instalments is lost and a Final Notice or a Summons will be issued for the whole year s Council Tax. When a Summons is issued, Summons Guidance Notes and a Direct Debit are also sent and 40 costs are added to all debts of 40 or more. At this stage or the Final Notice stage recovery will only be suspended if the person completes a form to pay by Direct Debit. Wherever possible employment/benefit details are obtained to enable an attachment to be made when the Liability Order has been granted, if a satisfactory arrangement is not negotiated or has not been maintained. Arrangements may still be agreed but they will not stop the Liability Order being granted at this stage. If the Council Tax is paid in full before the Court date the costs may be withdrawn. once a Liability Order has been obtained in court the Council will: - monitor payment arrangements where tax payers have already contacted the Council - make deductions from Benefit/Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance where appropriate - make an attachment of earnings order where appropriate in all other cases a Liability Order/Bailiff Notice is sent requesting information about the person s Income and advising that if there is no response within 14 days the matter will be passed to the Bailiffs. A list of the Bailiffs fees is enclosed with the notice. If there is still no response after 14 19

20 days the case is referred to the Bailiffs for collection Whilst undertaking any of these activities, as a result of obtaining a Liability Order, the Council may apply for an Attachment of Earnings or deductions from benefit. A payment arrangement may be discussed at any stage and the Council aims to consider an individual s circumstances and ability to pay. if all other enforcement options fail, the Council may apply to the Magistrates Court with a view to a prison sentence in absence of payment 20

21 BUSINESS RATES RECOVERY PROCESS APPENDIX 4 Explanation of Recovery terms FURTHER NOTICE - A document issued when an instalment is overdue REMINDER (FINAL NOTICE) - A document issued when an account is in arrears and the right to pay by instalments has been lost. SUMMONS - A document issued summoning the ratepayer to the Magistrates Court when there has been no satisfactory response to one of the above. At Court the Council will make an application for a Liability Order to be granted. LIABILITY ORDER - The Magistrates will grant a Liability Order if they are satisfied that the Business Rates are outstanding. The order gives the Council the power to take further action if the account remains unpaid. The main options are: - Referral to the Bailiffs who have the power to remove and sell goods Committal to prison BANKRUPTCY OR WINDING UP PROCEEDINGS Where payments due have not been made the Council will take the following action: a Further notice is issued which requires the account to be brought up to date within seven days. When a further notice is issued on an account staff can exercise their discretion by allowing a short period of time for payments to be brought up to date without progressing to the next stage of enforcement. Alternatively they may re-schedule a person s payment plan to commence or finish at a slightly later date. Short-term holds may be placed on the account whilst queries regarding relief or exemptions are resolved. 21

22 When there is no response to the further notice within 14 days a summons is issued. If the ratepayer brings the account up to date within seven days but falls into arrears a second time a final reminder is issued. At this point the arrangement may be re-negotiated but the recovery procedure will continue up to a Liability Order being granted. If the arrangement is being maintained then no further action will be taken after the issue of the liability order. Only one further notice is issued on an account in any financial year. If an account is brought up to date and then falls in to arrears for a second time the legal right to pay by instalments is lost and a Final Notice will be issued for the whole year s Business Rates. The whole amount must be paid within 7 days of the notice to prevent the issue of a summons. The right to continue paying by instalments will normally only be reinstated if a direct debit form is completed. When a Summons is issued, Summons Guidance Notes and a Direct Debit are also sent and 40 costs are added. At this stage (as with the Final Notice stage) recovery will only be suspended if the person completes a form to pay by Direct Debit and returns it to the Council before the Court date. Special payment arrangements may still be agreed but they will not prevent application for a Liability Order at this stage. If the Business Rates are paid in full before the Court date the costs may be withdrawn. once a Liability Order has been obtained in court the Council will: - monitor payment arrangements where business ratepayers have already contacted the Council. in most other cases the Liability Order is referred to the Council s bailiffs for collection. In other cases the Council may start bankruptcy /winding up proceedings. if all other enforcement options fail, the Council will, where appropriate, apply to the Magistrates Court to 22

23 have the ratepayer committed to prison for failing to pay. A payment arrangement may be discussed at any stage and the Council aims to consider an individual s circumstances and ability to pay. 23

24 SUNDRY DEBTOR RECOVERY PROCESS APPENDIX 5 Explanation of Recovery terms FIRST AND FINAL REMINDER - A red copy of the invoice issued when an account remains unpaid after 28 days. NOTICE OF OUTSTANDING INVOICE a document sent out 14 days after the Final Notice if an account is unpaid. LETTER BEFORE CLAIM a letter sent out 14 days after the Final Notice if an account is unpaid which warns the debtor that court action will be taken if the account remains unpaid. BROKEN ARRANGEMENT NOTICE a document sent at any time that an instalment arrangement is not being maintained. It states the amount of the arrears, the total balance due and details of payment methods. It also warns that Court proceedings will commence if payment or another arrangement is not made. INSTALMENT ARRANGEMENT - arrangements for payment will be accepted at any stage. Wherever possible the account will be cleared within 12 months. Longer periods may be agreed in the case of excessive hardship or large invoice. An agreed instalment arrangement, regularly maintained is preferable to court proceedings, which incurs additional cost and is no guarantee of payment. DEFAULT SUMMONS - A document issued summoning the person to County Court when there has been no satisfactory response to the Letter Before Claim A court fee is incurred on the commencement of proceedings. The majority of judgements are entered in default, that is nothing is received from the debtor. If the debtor disputes the debt, the matter then has to be heard. Both sides need to file an allocation questionnaire. If the debt exceeds 1000 a fee of 80 is required. A hearing date is then set and the matter heard by the court. If the Council is awarded judgment, the court fee(s) and set legal costs are added to the debt. A date is set for repayment. Once the date for repayment has expired and payment in full or an offer of instalments not received, a letter or further notice is sent reminding he debtor of the judgement and 24

25 requesting payment. A period of 14 days is given. After this time, for initial debts in excess of 150, further court action is considered. This is usually an Attachment of Earnings Order (fee 50), Warrant of Execution (fee 45) or Charging Order. Each account is reviewed for viability of recovery. If recovery is not viable the account is recommended for write off, giving reasons. If recovery is a possibility the appropriate application is made to the court. Due to court procedures this may take some time. ORAL EXAMINATION a court process which allows the Council to find out about the Debtors means and circumstances. ATTACHMENT OF EARNINGS the employer pays the Court an amount stipulated by the Court from the employee s salary. There cannot be an attachment of earnings in respect of a self-employed person. CHARGING ORDER This may be voluntary or via the Court and is where a charge/debt is put on the debtors property. If the property is sold then the charge is repaid out of the money received. Unless a sale is forced a charge can remain for many years and interest is not added. There must of course be equity in the property. WARRANT OF EXECUTION Bailiffs enter the debtor s property and remove goods for sale. The goods must be of sufficient value to cover the debt or part thereof, the bailiff costs and the costs of sale. At any time up to the commencement of court proceedings staff can exercise their discretion by allowing a short period of time for payments to be brought up to date without progressing to the next stage of enforcement. Short-term holds may be placed on the account whilst queries are resolved. At all stages the debtor s ability to pay is considered. Where payments due have not been made the Council will take the following standard recovery action. Individual services may request different procedures for all or some of their customers: A final notice is issued 28 days after the date of invoice if payment in full has not been made and no payment arrangement is in place. If after a further 14 days payment in full has still not been made and no payment arrangement is in place then one of two options will be chosen: 25

26 a) A Notice of Outstanding Invoice is sent and it is considered for write off, or b) A Notice of Intention to commence proceedings in County Court is issued and the originating Service is advised that the debt is being referred for recovery. The Service must check that invoice details are correct and that they are in agreement that Court proceedings should commence. PAYMENT ARRANGEMENTS Instalment arrangements to pay will be accepted at any stage Arrangements must clear the balance within 12 months unless there are exceptional circumstances and approval is obtained from the Revenues Manager or other designated officer If an arrangement is broken a Broken Arrangement Notice is sent. If the debtor makes no contact within 7 days of the notice the standard recovery action process continues. If contact is made the debtor is given a further opportunity to keep to the arrangement (or another arrangement may be made) If the arrangement is broken a second time the case is dealt with immediately under the standard recovery action procedure 26

27 APPENDIX 6 HOUSING AND COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT OVERPAYMENT RECOVERY PROCESS Explanation of Recovery terms RECOVERABLE OVERPAYMENTS All overpayments are recoverable, regardless of the reason they occurred, where the claimant or person to whom the benefit was paid can reasonably have been expected to know they were receiving benefit to which they were not entitled. When an overpayment is classed as recoverable the Benefit Assessor dealing with the case must make a separate decision as to whether or not the overpayment is to recovered. RECOVERY RATE Overpayments will normally be recovered from ongoing benefit at the maximum rate allowed (In 2003/ per week for non-fraudulent overpayments and per week for fraudulent overpayments). However, a reduction in the week recovery rate will be considered on health or financial grounds. NON-RECOVERABLE OVERPAYMENTS Arise as a result of a Local Authority or Department Error, where the claimant or person to whom the benefit was paid cannot reasonably have been expected to know they were receiving benefit to which they were not entitled. Non-recoverable overpayments are referred to the Chief Benefits Officer for authorisation. When a recoverable overpayment occurs the Council will take the following action: RECOVERY Recovery of the overpaid benefit can be sought from the claimant or the person to whom the payment was made. Recovery will only be sought from the landlord/agent where they could be expected to have known about the change in circumstances leading to the overpayment. In most cases recovery of a recoverable overpayment will be sought. However, consideration will be given to the personal and 27

28 financial circumstances of the person from whom recovery would be sought. If the situation is unclear the claimant will be contacted or visited for clarification before recovery is made. RECOVERY METHOD All excess Council Tax Benefit is debited, directly to the council tax account and the claimant is re-billed for the revised amount. Where the claimant continues to be entitled to Housing Benefit recovery is from their current entitlement, and is deducted prior to payment. Also if an underpayment arises all or part of this may be used to reduce the outstanding balance. Before lump sum recovery is made the personal and financial circumstances of the person should be considered, to ensure their tenancy is not jeopardised. Where the claimant moves to another Local Authority s area and continues to be entitled to Housing Benefit the Authority should be contacted and requested to recover the overpayment from their current entitlement. If the claimant is no longer entitled to Housing Benefit but in receipt of a Social Security Benefit, investigations are to be made to establish whether or not deductions can be made from the benefit in payment. SUNDRY DEBTOR ACCOUNTS If it is not possible to recover the overpayment using one of the methods described above the Income Section will be requested to issue a Sundry Debtor account. When the overpayment is under an account is not to be raised. An overpayment is transferred to Sundry Debtors for recovery or administrative purposes. It should be retrieved where recovery can be made through the benefit system i.e. from an underpayment or ongoing benefit. In all cases, where a successful new claim is processed and the claimant has an outstanding overpayment sundry debtor s account, the Income Section must be contacted. The overpayment will be recovered from underpaid and/ or ongoing benefit unless the claimant has made and is maintaining a reasonable repayment arrangement. 28

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