Council Tax arrears are now the most common problem debt faced by thousands of households across the country – even more problematic than any other household debt. This is due to its legal standing as a priority bill and how accounts in arrears are managed by Local Authorities.
Given their priority status, second only to rent / mortgage payments, Council Tax arrears – along with commercial counterpart National Non-Domestic Rates (Business Rates) – become subject to very hard-hitting recovery procedures if left unaddressed. Governed by legislation there are little to no justifiable reasons for non-payment and, only by communicating with your Local Authority if there are any issues with payment, will any later problems be limited.
In the case of Business Rates arrears, not addressing any problems early on can often mean the difference between the continuation of trading or closing the business down, as Enforcement Agents are able to gain access to commercial properties, such as shops, bars, and pubs, much easier than domestic properties and, where necessary, goods may be seized to begin reducing the arrears balance.
There are, of course, an array of challenges faced by those in arrears and we believe everyone deserves an opportunity to put things right, regardless of previous engagement or payment history. Positive engagements will always prove more successful to all involved and we absolutely recommend that anyone in arrears should act now and resolve the recovery and enforcement issue, sooner rather than later, as this would be the first step in ensuring future billing cycles* are free of any historic arrears. (*for those with larger historic arrears, the “arrears free” element will depend on arrears level)
For many households and businesses alike, there can be many challenges that impede any kind of progress being made to address debt;
|The simple term “Priority”||Can be misinterpreted, but each interpretation is an individual to the person or household. This is not just a lack of understanding – for many, it’s the basics (food/heating etc..) that come first|
|Non-Priority creditor contact||Debt’s noticeably more persistent “auntie” – multi-vehicular contact can pressure people to deal with non-priority issues first, leaving the more “parental” priority debts unaddressed, or even impractical|
|Balancing the priorities||“Do I pay the new Council Tax or Business Rates instalment, or do I pay the Enforcement Agent for the arrears?” – a regular in low-income scenarios|
|Vulnerabilities||Mental Health, Physical Health (incl. disability), and the Unemployed – all vulnerable situations. The Ministry of Justice’s Taking Control of Goods – National Standards (April 2014) lists just eight categories. We believe there to be far more than this.|
Just a side note on vulnerability: Whilst there is seemingly no apparent global protection for individuals or households who fall into a recognised vulnerability category, there are some local policies, where individual Authorities have put in place specific procedures that defines what should happen if an individual or household presents as vulnerable.
The Route to a Solution
We are very clear on payment of Council Tax and Business Rates, including arrears, being a priority and legal requirement – however, what should be considered, and all involved must ensure does not happen, is that the individual, household or business is not being pushed into an “at-risk” position of further debt accrual – especially if it means payments of priority rents / utilities, future Council Tax/Business Rates billing would be affected – by not considering the wider situation for those parties.
It is in nobody’s best interests to impose high-risk arrangements if it places rent payments, or conditional rent arrears payments at risk and an eviction scenario arises. Should such a scenario occur, Council Tax/Business Rates falls further down the priority list and that person or business suddenly disengages from all communication. Thankfully, this type of scenario is few and far between but the concept of pushing someone into a more challenging predicament must be avoided.
Engagement between Local Authorities and Charge-Payers is a big issue, especially where there are outstanding arrears to be addressed. This can be linked to a mindset, or belief, that nobody wants to listen to the broader situation. Unfortunately, this stems from the heart of Local Taxation legislation where it is documented that there are very few recognised legitimate reasons for non-payment.
The Call to Action
We understand both sides of the argument and would like to work with Local Government and the Enforcement Industry to look at ways in which improved engagement can be encouraged, simply by altering the approach and language used within the existing recovery and enforcement processes. Whilst there is simply no justification for the “Won’t Payer”, more could and should be done to hear the “Can’t Payer”.
Nobody wants to be in debt. Nobody wants to be woken up at 0600am to an Enforcement Agent knocking at the door, but individual circumstances must be appropriately considered if arrears settlement and indeed future positive engagement and maintenance of regular billing instalments is to be more successful, going forward.
How to reach out to Libranox
You can reach out for our services via any of the following methods:
1: By submitting a request to access our Mediation Service – here you can tell us a little bit about your recovery and enforcement situation which will be discussed in more detail when we call you back
2: By sending a contact request, via our contact us page. This is ideal if you are a Local Authority, Enforcement Agency, Sheriff Officer or independent agency supporting a client (such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, Housing Associations etc…)
3: Or simply by calling us on 0333 050 8710