The Fair Recovery and Debt Collection Policy

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1 The Fair Recovery and Debt Collection Policy

2 1. Introduction Duty To Collect & Recover An Effective Policy The Benefits of A Fair Debt Collection Policy Summary of Policy Aims Statement of Principles for the Fair Collection and Debt Recovery Policy Watford Borough Council / Three Rivers District Council Commitment Watford Community Housing Trust and Thrive Homes Commitment Procedure Notes Income Maximisation Methods of Payment Frequency of Payment Information and Advice to Council Tax Payers Collection and Recovery Processes Council Tax Recovery Process Non-Domestic Rate Recovery Process Other Council Debts Watford Community Housing Trust and Thrive Homes Procedure Guidance for Staff when making arrangements for people in arrears Making arrangements for people in arrears Multiple Debts Hierarchy Arrangements made by Advice Agencies Monitoring Payment Arrangements When payment arrangements are not maintained Maintaining Current instalments Monitoring Watford Borough Council and Three Rivers District Council (for each Council) Watford Community Housing Trust and Thrive Homes Appendix 1 Priority Debts Appendix 2 Advice Agencies Appendix 3 Reductions available to Council Tax Payers Appendix 4 Help available if you rent your home Appendix 5 Reduction & relief available for Non-Domestic Ratepayers

3 1. Introduction As part of a growing acceptance of the advantages of an effective anti-poverty strategy the Revenues & Benefits Shared Service of Watford Borough Council and Three Rivers District Council (The Councils) and Watford Community Housing Trust (The Trust) agreed the need for a collection and debt recovery policy that is fair to everyone, especially those on low incomes. Each partner will endeavour to get customers experiencing payment difficulties to sign an information sharing protocol to allow a joint approach to helping the customer. This policy has also been written after taking account of the views of the local Citizens Advice Bureaux whose assistance with providing debt advice is invaluable. The Councils will act in accordance with the Collection of Council Tax Arrears Good Practice Protocol as approved by the LGA and Citizens Advice. Some people may deliberately set out to delay or not make payments and all methods of debt enforcement irrespective of the nature of the debt may be used to secure payment. Indeed all parties have a responsibility to the vast majority that do pay to maximise collection from those that don t. There are a number of reasons why an individual falls into debt and all parties will use their best endeavours to help such people and to minimise the impact of debt on them. 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 help to alleviate hardship. Where people fail to make contact or maintain arrangements, recovery action will continue. It should be made clear that recovery action invariably means that additional costs are added to a debt. 1.1 Duty To Collect & Recover Watford Borough Council and Three Rivers District Council both have a legal duty to all council tax payers to ensure cost effective billing, collection, and recovery of all sums due to the council. In addition, they have a responsibility to collect Non-Domestic Rates from businesses, overpaid Housing Benefits and sundry debts ranging from commercial rents to allotments to trade refuse. Watford Community Housing Trust has a responsibility to all of their tenants to collect rent as efficiently as possible, and take early action against those who fail to pay. 3

4 1.2 An Effective Policy We know that for the policy to be effective it is vital that we ensure: accurate, clear and prompt billing arrangements a quick response to changes in circumstances fast and accurate delivery of benefit entitlements an ability to stick to the time scales we give people when outlining enforcement action 1.3 The Benefits 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 likely to be effective 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 ensure that vulnerable people are helped to meet their obligations and not placed under unnecessary pressure 1.4 Summary of Policy Aims To take positive action to prevent arrears occurring, for example by maximising income and providing a range of payment methods To take positive enforcement action against deliberate non-payers or those who delay payment. To ensure we make early contact to avoid build up of debt To 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 reasonable payment levels that they can maintain. The Councils and The Trust will each work towards adopting a coordinated approach within their own organisation with regard to billing, discounts, exemptions, concessions, benefits and multiple debts. 4

5 2. Statement of Principles for the Fair Collection and Debt Recovery Policy Watford Borough Council, Three Rivers District Council, Watford Community Housing Trust consider that people have a responsibility to pay aim to identify those who can pay but won't or who delay payment, so that recovery action can be taken accordingly actively encourage contact at every stage of the collection and recovery process aim to help people maximise their income acknowledge the requirement to provide a service that is effective but sensitive to individual's needs. acknowledge our responsibility to collect revenue effectively When people get into arrears, we will: ensure that payment arrangements reflect the ability to pay rather than the level of debt owed not take the next step in the recovery procedure if payments are made as agreed acknowledge and respect a person's obligations to his/her dependants and recognise the need for a person to maintain a reasonable standard of living expect Priority Debts (see below) to be given precedence over other debts owed acknowledge the role of the recognised advice agencies and will treat offers made on behalf of clients in good faith 3. Watford Borough Council / Three Rivers District Council Commitment 1. We will provide clear and prompt information about bills and liabilities. The information we provide will show: what the bill or liability is for the amount due how to make payment a contact point for all enquiries All such correspondence will be written in "plain English" and will contain, where appropriate, information about where to get independent advice. 2. We will inform people of their entitlement to benefits, discounts, reliefs and exemptions 5

6 3. We will have trained staff who will be able to assist the public on debt matters 4. We will make use of internal resources to provide interpreters for languages other than English including BSL. Where an in house resource is not available we will make use of Language Line. Explanatory leaflets will be provided in languages other than English on request. 5. We will offer a range of payment methods and frequency of payment as appropriate 6. We will offer a range of ways that people can contact us and will include; e- mail, phone, face-to-face, post and self-service via the internet. 4. Watford Community Housing Trust Commitment 1. We will assess all new tenants for Housing Benefit eligibility and help complete a Housing Benefit application for all tenants who may be eligible when the tenancy agreement is signed. 2. We will check potential eligibility for other unclaimed benefits 3. We will provide flexible and convenient methods of payment. It is acknowledged that the easier it is to pay, the more likely it is that payment will be made. We aim to provide a range of payment methods and to maximise payment facilities. 4. We will actively encourage people to contact us early if they are having difficulty paying and, when appropriate, advise them where to get independent advice. 5. We will make it easy for members of the public to contact us. This will be achieved through telephone help lines and offices open to the public at suitable hours. 6. We will make information available in a variety of formats and languages. 7. We have trained staff to assist tenants and leaseholders on benefit advice, debt and financial products 5. Procedure Notes 5.1 Income Maximisation The Councils will take a pro-active role in promoting Income Maximisation. When a benefit application form is received it will be reviewed in the light of 6

7 any entitlement to State Benefits or, in respect of Council Tax, eligibility for a Single Person Discount or other discounts or relief. Where eligibility for these or other benefits is identified, the claimant will be notified accordingly and advised how to claim. 5.2 Methods of Payment The Council and The Trust offer a range of payment methods namely: Direct Debit Via the internet Telephone Payments By cash as appropriate at certain Post Offices for Watford Borough Council Tax and Watford Community Housing Trust or at a Three Rivers District Council cash office By cheque as appropriate to Watford Borough Council, Three Rivers District Council, Watford Community Housing Trust At a Bank At a Payzone or Paypoint 5.3 Frequency of Payment Council Tax Council Tax bills shall be issued each March requesting payments to be made over 10 months, April to January. Where a bill is issued part way through the year, the number of instalments offered will reduce accordingly. In addition, from April 2013, taxpayers have the right to request that Council Tax be spread over 12 monthly instalments. Again this will reduce through the year. The preferred method of payment is by Direct Debit. Non-Domestic Rates (Business Rates) Non-Domestic Rate bills shall be issued each March and request payment to be made over 10 months, April to January. This will be reduced as the year progresses. Again, the preferred method of payment is by Direct Debit. In respect of Business Rates the Council makes all ratepayers aware of the availability of Hardship Rate Relief. The Councils will consider each application on its merits. 7

8 Other Council Debts Other council debts are due on demand, but where an account is ongoing e.g. Commercial Rent, payments can be made by monthly instalments by Direct Debit. In respect of housing benefit overpayments, the Council will consider in each case, whether recovery should be sought and if so determine a level of payment appropriate to a person's financial circumstances. In deciding the level of overpayment the Councils will consider the level of any benefit that can be awarded during the period of overpayment. Watford Community Housing Trust Rent Payments Rent is due weekly on a Monday but payments can be made fortnightly or monthly in advance if tenants find that more convenient. Where Rent Accounts are up to date, two rent-free weeks are allowed usually one at Christmas and one in March/April meaning rent is paid over either 50 or 51 weeks (depending on the number of weeks in the year). 5.4 Information and Advice to Council Tax Payers Watford Borough Council & Three Rives District Council The Councils enclose a leaflet to all tax payers within their own area with the annual Council Tax bill which covers the following information: Valuation Bands Discounts Reductions for people with disabilities Exempt Dwellings Localised Council Tax Reduction Appeals How to Pay Where to Get Further Information Watford Community Housing Trust The Trust will advise their tenants of the following: new tenants are given advice on paying rent, benefit entitlement and help in making an application for Housing Benefit a tenant's handbook is given to each tenant, which provides further advice on rent payments, and where to obtain independent advice each tenant will be told who to contact if problems arise 8

9 tenants are sent rent statements every 4 months with a balance of their account welfare benefits advice is available where tenants are having problems with obtaining benefit entitlement 6. Collection and Recovery Processes 6.1 Council Tax Recovery Process Where payments due have not been made the Council will take the following action: Reminder Notice a Reminder is issued advising that a required payment has not been made and requesting that instalments are brought up to date within 7 days. If payment is not made or there is a further failure to pay an instalment when due, the taxpayer can, after a further seven days, lose the right to pay by instalments and the full balance to the end of the year will be due. The earliest that a reminder notice can be issued is 7 days after the instalment becomes due. At this stage, Council staff will be able to offer a number of alternatives; - a Council Tax Reduction on grounds of income or circumstances, or - a re-profile of the instalments (so that the final payment is delayed), or - a special arrangement to offer weekly payments, or - any reasonable arrangement, e.g. delay of payment or double payment to be made on the next instalment date. Final Notice a Final Notice is issued to advise that the right to instalments is now forfeited either because there has been a subsequent failure to pay instalments on time or no payments have been made in respect of a previous reminder notice. Full payment of Council Tax due to the end of the financial year will be required. The earliest that a final notice can be issued is 7 days after the issue of a reminder notice. At this stage, Council staff may offer the following alternatives; - a Council Tax Reduction on grounds of income or circumstances, or - a special arrangement to offer weekly repayments - a re-profile of instalments if future payments are to be made by direct debit, or - any other reasonable arrangement. 9

10 Pre-Summons Notice a Pre-Summons Notice is issued advising that the right to pay by instalments has been lost and the full balance outstanding should be paid immediately. This Notice further advises that failure to deal with the matter will result in the Council issuing a summons. However if the instalment plan is brought up to date, no summons will be issued. At this stage, Council staff may offer the following alternatives; - a Council Tax Reduction on grounds of income or circumstances, or - a special arrangement to offer weekly repayments - a re-profile of instalments if future payments are to be made by direct debit, or - any other reasonable arrangement. Summons a Summons is issued to all those people who have not responded to the Presummons Notice. The issue of a summons will result in cost of being added to the debt. A summons can only be applied for after 14 days have passed since a reminder notice was issued or 7 days after a final notice has been issued Full payment is required at this stage although the debt may be reduced if the taxpayer submits a successful application for a Council Tax Reduction. A reasonable arrangement can be agreed at this stage although this shall be subject to successful application for a Liability Order. To support an arrangement, forms setting out a taxpayer s income and expenditure may be required. Liability Order a Liability Order is applied for at the Magistrates Court. 14 days must have elapsed between the issue of the summons and the application for a Liability Order. Once a Liability Order has been obtained (no additional costs are incurred at this stage) the Council will, if able: - monitor payment arrangements where tax payers have already contacted the Council, or - make deductions from allowable State Benefits such as Income Support, Employment Support Allowance, Jobseekers Allowance (IB) or Pension Credit - make an attachment of earnings order. - make an attachment of allowances order. 10

11 In all other cases a Liability Order Notice is sent together with an Income/Expenditure form advising that if there is no response within 14 days the matter will be passed to the bailiffs, and that extra costs will be incurred. Where there is no response to the Liability Order Notification the case will be passed to the Council s bailiff Bailiff Action When the debt has been passed to the bailiff, will be done so with instructions to the bailiff that they are to collect the debt in full. Additional costs will be added to the debt in accordance with the legislation. The bailiffs are able to use their discretion to agree arrangements as appropriate in the circumstances. Bailiffs are constrained by a legal framework as to when they can seek to recover debts and the actions that they are permitted to take. We will expect the bailiff, acting as agent for the Council to act in accordance with the law. If a bailiff, in the course of his activities, becomes aware of circumstances that would indicate that the debtor is vulnerable; on grounds of illness, disability or age, they should seek further advice from the Council before proceeding. The Bailiff is expected to act in accordance with the conditions of the framework agreement agreed in December 2012 and any fees and charges to be levied in accordance with Schedule 5 Council Tax (Administration & Enforcement) Regulations 1992 Alternative Recovery Methods Subject to the individual circumstances of the case, the Council may seek alternative methods to recover the Council Tax debt which will involve: - Applying for a Charging Order on the taxpayer s property (which can be executed at a later stage) - Applying for a Bankruptcy Order - Applying for a Committal Order (subject to an unsuccessful attempt by the Bailiff to recover the debt) At any time during the recovery process period the Council aims to consider individual circumstances and ability to pay, making arrangements where possible. The actions of the taxpayer together with their payment history shall also be taken into account. 6.2 Non-Domestic Rate Recovery Process Where payments due have not been made the Council will take the following action: 11

12 Reminder Notice (also known as a further notice ) a Reminder is issued advising that a required payment has not been made and requesting that instalments are brought up to date within 7 days. If payment is not made or there is a further failure to pay an instalment when due, the taxpayer can, after a further seven days, lose the right to pay by instalments and the full balance to the end of the year will be due. At this stage, Council staff will be able to offer a number of alternatives; - a re-profile of the instalments (so that the final payment is delayed), or - a special arrangement to offer weekly payments, or - any reasonable arrangement, e.g. delay of payment or double payment to be made on the next instalment date. A second reminder may be issued Final Notice a Final Notice is issued to advise that the right to instalments is now forfeited either because there has been a subsequent failure to pay instalments on time or no payments have been made in respect of a previous reminder notice. Full payment of Non-Domestic Rate due to the end of the financial year will be required. At this stage, Council staff may offer the following alternatives; - a special arrangement to offer weekly repayments - a re-profile of instalments if future payments are to be made by direct debit, or - any other reasonable arrangement. Summons a Summons is issued to all those people who have not responded to the Final Notice. The issue of a summons will result in cost of being added to the debt. Full payment is required at this stage. A reasonable arrangement can be agreed at this stage although this shall be subject to successful application for a Liability Order. To support an arrangement, forms setting out a taxpayer s income and expenditure may be required. 12

13 Liability Order a Liability Order is applied for at the Magistrates Court. Once a Liability Order has been obtained (no additional costs are incurred at this stage) the Council will, if able: - monitor payment arrangements where tax payers have already contacted the Council, or In all other cases a Liability Order Notice is sent that if there is no response within 7 days the matter will be passed to the bailiffs, and that extra costs will be incurred. Where there is no response to the Liability Order Notification the case will be passed to the Council s bailiff Bailiff Action When the debt has been passed to the bailiff, will be done so with instructions to the bailiff that they are to collect the debt in full. Additional costs will be added to the debt in accordance with the legislation. The bailiffs are able to use their discretion to agree arrangements as appropriate in the circumstances. Bailiffs are constrained by a legal framework as to when they can seek to recover debts and the actions that they are permitted to take. We will expect the bailiff, acting as agent for the Council to act in accordance with the law. If a bailiff, in the course of his activities, becomes aware of circumstances that would indicate that the debtor is vulnerable; on grounds of illness, disability or age, they should seek further advice from the Council before proceeding. The Bailiff is expected to act in accordance with the conditions of the framework agreement agreed in December 2012 and any fees and charges to be levied in accordance with Schedule 3 The Non-Domestic Rating (Collection & Enforcement)(Local Lists) Regulations Alternative Recovery Methods Subject to the individual circumstances of the case, the Council may seek alternative methods to recover the Non-Domestic Rate debt which will involve: - Applying for a Winding up Order - Applying for a Bankruptcy Order - Applying for a Committal Order (subject to an unsuccessful attempt by the Bailiff to recover the debt) 13

14 At any time during the recovery process period the Council aims to consider individual circumstances and ability to pay, making arrangements where possible. The actions of the taxpayer together with their payment history shall also be taken into account. 6.3 Other Council Debts Housing Benefit Overpayments Where an individual has been overpaid Housing Benefit we will look to recover that debt in full. The exception to this will be if by applying the law, the overpayment is classed as non-recoverable. An overpayment is non-recoverable if it is caused by official error. That is an error by mistake or omission on behalf of the local authority, that has not been contributed to by the individual or someone acting on their behalf, or someone who receives the payment. In addition, it must not be reasonable to expect that the individual would have realised that they had been overpaid Housing Benefit. In all other circumstances the overpayment will be recoverable and will be subject to a decision on who will be liable for the repayment of the overpayment. Methods of recovery The overpayment can be recovered by: Invoice Sent to the person deemed liable for repayment of the overpayment. If payment is not received when due, the Council shall, following the issue of two reminder notices, apply for the debt to be registered with the County Court using N322A form. This action must be carried out within 6 years of the debt becoming due. Such an action will enable further recovery methods to be used such as: - An attachment to earnings - An attachment to benefits - A Garnishee Order - Referral to a Bailiff - Application for a bankruptcy Order Any action shall not be taken until the appeal rights period open to the debtor has expired and any outstanding appeal has been fully determined. 14

15 Deduction from ongoing Housing Benefit entitlement We will seek to recover an overpayment of Housing Benefit from ongoing Housing Benefit payments at the rates allowed for in legislation. From April 2013, the standard rates at which overpayments will be recovered are: Non-Fraudulent Overpayments Fraudulent Overpayments This can be increased by 50% of any earned income disregard. Any deductions shall leave the claimant receiving a minimum of 0.50 per week Housing Benefit. Discretion will be given to staff to reduce the recovery rate to the minimum rate, currently 3.60 per week where the individual is in receipt of maximum Housing Benefit and the overpayment is not classed as a Fraudulent overpayment. Other methods - Deductions from allowance DWP Benefits - Deductions from Housing Benefit if now paid by another Local Authority - By recovery from Housing Benefit paid to a landlord in respect of another tenant if the landlord has been classed as responsible for the overpayment ( blameless tenant recovery ) If the overpayment has been caused by fraudulent activity by the claimant or some other party and a conviction has been secured in the Courts, then all available means such as Compensation Orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in addition to County Court Judgements and the methods above will be pursued., Sundry Debts Where payments due have not been made the Council will take the following action: a reminder notice is issued which requires the account to be brought up to date within seven days if payment is not made in full or an agreement entered into a "Letter before legal action" is forwarded reminding people of the need to pay. Failure to respond to this notice or make payment in full will result in a County Court summons being issued 15

16 the person has the opportunity to challenge the debt in the County Court following the issue of a summons. If the debt is confirmed the Council will seek payment in the terms agreed by the Court. If the person defaults the Council will seek recovery by all means available e.g. Warrant of Execution, Attachment of Earnings, Attachment of Benefits, Charging Order, Garnishee Order in respect of costs, the Councils imposes financial penalties at each stage of recovery for other debts. In mitigating circumstances the Councils are prepared to reduce costs if the person's financial circumstances suggest this may be appropriate. Such a decision is at the total discretion of the Councils. The debtor may also lose the provision of the service required, for example, trade refuse collection. 7. Watford Community Housing Trust Procedure Where payment due has not been made Watford Community Housing Trust will take the following action: If an account falls 1 week in arrears a reminder letter, including details of point of contact, need for action on the tenant's behalf and results of failure are outlined. A second reminder letter is sent 1 week after the first reminder letter but no later than 2 weeks if no payment has been made. Personal contact is made with the person prior to formal action being taken to talk about maximising income, basic debt counselling and making an agreement to pay, making clear the result of any failure to maintain the agreement. Notice seeking possession is issued, including the level of debt, the point of contact, the need for action and the result of failure if the tenant does not respond in 28 days. An application is made to the court for a hearing to obtain possession Order is obtained in the County Court, together with an order for costs, either requiring vacant possession within a fixed period or, where possible, agreement will be reached for payment to be made by reasonable instalments. Action is confirmed by letter, giving the point of contact and the result of any inaction. If all previous action has failed to result in the required payment, further Court action is taken as appropriate, which may include eviction, further suspension of warrant, interview, etc. additional court costs will be incurred. 16

17 Where money is owed by former tenants, the debt may be pursued by an external debt collection agency, who will comply with the agreed Code of Guidance. Throughout this process, the Trust will liaise with the Councils to establish whether Housing Benefit has been applied for or was in payment prior to the referral for Court Action, 10 days in advance of the hearing and in advance of a warrant for eviction being applied for. 8. Guidance for Staff when making arrangements for people in arrears 8.1 Making arrangements for people in arrears Staff have to meet the challenge of maintaining collection rates as well as ensuring that no taxpayer or debtor faces an onerous burden when attempting to repay debts. Staff will have flexibility and discretion over the arrangements that they are able to make but this flexibility and discretion will become more restricted the depending on the age and size of the debt and the stage in the recovery process that has been reached. In addition, the customer s previous payment history should be considered when making arrangements. Any arrangement should be based on quantative information, the detail of which will depend on the size and age of the debt. Staff will be expected to consider: the age of the debt the previous payment record of the customerr any evidence as to their current financial state (i.e. benefit records) other debts that the customer may be liable for. the current recovery stage and any time limits that this may dictate the date that a customer receives regular income (wages, benefits etc) whether the customer has any specific needs such as language, accessibility or other domestic issues that would impact on their ability to pay.. If there is reasonable doubt that the arrangement offered will be maintained or if there is a failure to agree on the rate of repayment, a form outlining the customer s income and expenditure shall be used. This is particularly relevant when a Liability Order has been obtained or applied for. 17

18 Any arrangement, post Liability Order will be compared to the rates that would be expected if an Attachment of Earnings Order were in force. Although there is preference for all debts, particularly Council Tax and Non- Domestic Rate to be paid in full within the year that they relate, it may be reasonable given the circumstance to extend this if it means the successful conclusion to an arrangement. If the customer has numerous debts and agreement cannot be reached, they should be advised to contact an independent agency for debt management advice. Staff should try to get as much detail as possible of a person's circumstances to make the best assessment of their ability to pay. However if a person refuses to divulge any information this should not be used as a reason for refusing to make an arrangement; but they should be advised that this could lead to a high rate of payment being required 8.2 Multiple Debts Hierarchy If an individual has more than one local authority debt, then a view should be taken of the order in which the debts should be cleared having account for the consequences of non-payment. For example a business with an outstanding trade refuse bill and non-domestic rates bill may be advised to prioritise the trade refuse bill so that the service can continue and enable the business to continue trading. If there is no overriding argument for the recovery of a debt then the following order can be used as a guide: 1. Sundry Debts, for example Commercial Rent, Trade Refuse 2. Housing Benefit Overpayment 3. Council Tax 4. Non Domestic Rates If it is known that the individual also has rent arrears, then contact should be established with WCHT so that all factors can be taken into account. For example, it may be better for the customer to clear the rent arrears before addressing Council Tax arrears. A judgement call should be made specifying the reasons for the relevant action. Each case must be considered on its own merits. 18

19 8.3 Arrangements made by Advice Agencies Where an arrangement is made by a recognised advice agency, an Income and Expenditure form will normally be provided. Their offers received will be treated in good faith provided they appear realistic. Regular liaison and training will take place between the Councils and approved advice agencies. 8.4 Documentary evidence In some cases it may be necessary to request documentary evidence to confirm particular details when arriving at a payment arrangement. Customers should not however be asked for documentary evidence unless it is absolutely necessary. If it is necessary the customer should be told of the particular items that require confirming and be given a specified reasonable time limit within which they are required. If it is easier for the customer, arrangements can be made for the documents to be confirmed by the Council, the Trust or a recognised advice agency. The customer should be advised that if the evidence is not produced within the agreed timescale the offer of payment may be rejected and further action could be taken. 8.5 Monitoring Payment Arrangements Once a payment arrangement has been agreed, it shall be closely monitored as further recovery action may be taken in respect of late or missed payments. The responsibility for making sure that payment reaches the account by the due date remains with the customer. The customer should be reminded that the date on which instalments are to be paid is the final date on which money should reach the account. This means that customers must allow sufficient time for the payment to reach the Council / Trust by the due date 8.6 When payment arrangements are not maintained It is important to ensure that where arrangements have not been maintained that prompt action is taken (by the person) to try and bring the arrangement back up to date. 19

20 Customers may be sent written notice before an arrangement is cancelled. This will give the person an opportunity to bring the arrangement up to date or advise the Council / Trust of a change in circumstances. This is not mandatory and will depend on the individual circumstance Although the Council / Trust will ideally require the original agreement to be brought up to date within a short time scale, if there has been a significant change in circumstances it will be possible to negotiate a new arrangement. 8.7 Maintaining Current Instalments When negotiating arrangements for payment, staff should ensure that current instalments/rent are being maintained, i.e. the arrangement will be in addition to and conditional on, the current Council Tax, weekly rent, Non-Domestic Rate, or other Council/Housing Association debt being paid. For Council Tax, current instalments will be the yearly Council Tax divided by 52 in the case of weekly instalments or 12 in the case of monthly instalments. 9.0 Monitoring It is the responsibility of the Council and Trust to ensure the policy is effective through their monitoring and complaints procedure, taking into account the indicators listed below 9.1 Watford Borough Council and Three Rivers District Council (for each Council) rate of collection number of cases reaching each stage of recovery number of cases being passed to the external bailiffs number of cases where recovery is suspended due to arrangements being made number of complaints received where policy is not being followed. the effectiveness of external bailiffs 9.2 Watford Community Housing Trust level of rent arrears number of court referrals and warrants seeking possession level of evictions number of complaints received where policy is not being followed 20

21 Appendix 1 Priority Debts Priority debts are those debts that can result in loss of essential service, lose your home or imprisonment HOUSING Council Tax Mortgage Rent UTILITIES Electricity Gas Telephone OTHER Business Rates Child Support Agency deductions Court Fines Hire Purchase for essential goods Income Tax Maintenance Arrears Secured Loan VAT 21

22 Appendix 2 Advice Agencies Citizens Advice Bureau St Mary s Churchyard High Street Watford WD17 2BE Tel: Citizens Advice Bureau Northway House High Street Rickmansworth WD3 1EH Tel: Citizens Advice Bureau 4 Bridlington Road South Oxhey Watford WD19 7AF Tel National Debtline Tricorn House Hagley Road Edgbaston Birmingham B16 8TP Tel: Watford & West Herts Chamber of Commerce Unit 47 Wenta Business Centre Colne Way Watford WD24 7NF Tel Business Debtline Tel:

23 Appendix 3 Reductions available to Council Tax Payers Local Council Tax Reduction Scheme Available to Council Taxpayers who are on a low income. It reduces the Council Tax bill depending on the level of income, household circumstances and Council Tax bill. A reduction is made following an application, forms for which are available at either Watford Town Hall, Three Rivers District Council or a local CAB. Council Tax Single Person Discount Available to single residents who are liable to pay Council Tax. A reduction of 25% is available if you are living alone. A request for a single person discount can be made at either Watford Town Hall, Three Rivers District Council. Council Tax Status Discount Available if you live alone apart from someone who falls into one of the following categories: Full time students, student nurses, apprentices or youth trainees Non British spouses of students Persons who have reached 18 but in respect of whom child benefit is still payable 18 and 19 year olds who are at or have just left school Persons in residential care homes in England and Wales Foreign language assistants People who are classed as severely mentally impaired Carers Prisoners Members of religious communities (essentially monks and nuns) Members (and dependants) of International HQ and Defence Organisations Members and dependants of visiting forces Diplomats We will disregard that person or persons and if there is only one person resident who is not disregarded, award a 25% discount. Council Tax Disabled Persons Reduction Available if a disabled person is resident and one of the following features is in the property: A room other than a bathroom, kitchen or toilet which is used mainly by the disabled person 23

24 An additional bathroom or kitchen for the use of the disabled person Extra space inside the house or flat for the use of a wheelchair If eligible, it will result in a reduction equal to one council tax band, i.e. if you live in a property that is in Band D, you will get a bill as if you were in Band C. Further Powers to Reduce or Remit Council Tax The Councils have the discretionary power under s13a of Local Government Finance Act 1992 to reduce or remit Council Tax 24

25 Appendix 4 Help available if you rent your home If you rent your home from a private landlord or Housing Association, you can apply for Housing Benefit. The amount that you can get will depend on your circumstances including your income and how much rent you have to pay. You can make a claim by completing an application form available at either Watford Town Hall, Three Rivers House, a local CAB or major Housing Association. Payment will either be paid to your landlord if we can or to you via your bank account. 25

26 Appendix 5 Reduction & relief available for Non-Domestic Ratepayers Businesses or individuals who pay rates on Business Premises can apply for the following reductions or relief from their Non-Domestic Rates: Charity relief Charities are entitled to an 80% reduction in their bills. The Council has the discretion to reduce the bill further. In addition, the council has the discretion to grant relief to some other types of non-profit making bodies. Rural rate relief If your business property is in a designated rural area where the population is less than 3,000, you may be able to claim rural rate relief. Hardship relief This discretionary relief can be granted by the council if you are experiencing hardship and your business is considered to be important to the local community. There are no specific criteria for entitlement all applications are considered individually. Rate relief for small businesses A new form of relief for small businesses has been introduced with effect from 1 April 2005 and is called Small Business Rate Relief. A small business is any business with a rateable value of below 15,000. The relief is available upon application annually and is granted to businesses with one assessment of below 15,000 or whose businesses who occupy other properties where the rateable value of these properties is under 2,200.The total of all the properties must be below 15,000. Small businesses with a rateable value of 5,000 and below will receive 50% discount, this relief will decrease on a sliding scale of 1% for every 100 up to 9,999. All assessments below 15,000 will be charged the lower rate poundage of 41.5p (from 42.2p). Rate relief for community amateur sports clubs Registered Community Amateur Clubs (CASCs) can receive 80% rate relief. To qualify as a CASC, a sports club must: Be open to the whole community Be run as an amateur club Be a non profit making organisation Aim to provide facilities for, and encourage people to take part in, eligible sport To register as a CASC please see: or telephone the Inland Revenue Sports Clubs Unit on

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