Bailiff’s false start

Councils are turning prematurely to bailiffs, reports Catherine Smyth

Hero image

A young couple who succeeded in having a bailiff bill scrapped are urging others not to be bullied by threatening letters and visits.

Kerry and Kieran Hanson endured six months of hell after a mix-up over direct debit payments saw them go into arrears on their council tax.

When informed of the situation, the couple immediately made a payment arrangement but bailiffs still threatened to remove property. They became prisoners in their home in Stacksteads, Rossendale, ensuring doors and windows were locked and curtains closed because they were scared of what the bailiffs would do.

Enforcement costs

Hanson, 25, a self-employed music teacher, said: “Without the intervention of Rossendale Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB), I fear the bailiffs would have got in and taken our things.

“We had saved enough money to pay the debt off in full but Equita said they would not accept it and sent us a removal notice threatening to sell our goods at a public auction.”

His wife, 24, who works on temporary contracts, said: “It was not our fault the council tax direct debit was re-credited to our account.

Because we internet bank we do not get statements and so we didn’t know there was a problem until we got a letter from the council.

“As soon as it arrived I rang and agreed payment arrangements.”

Capita is contracted by Rossendale Council to collect council tax and the debt had already been passed to its subsidiary bailiff company Equita.

At one stage the company was demanding £160 enforcement costs but the couple, who have a two-year-old daughter, have now received confirmation that their debt is clear and they do not have to pay any additional money to the bailiff.

Kester Dean, manager of the CAB, said: “A particularly disturbing aspect of this case is that they rang the council to arrange payments and were immediately put on to Equita, who have a track record of adding on fees not actually due.

‘Unlawful charges’

“As a CAB we have encountered and contested previous cases where Equita has been found to add unlawful charges to people’s council tax accounts. If it’s noticed they remove them, but lots of people will pay them.

“This is a double whammy: those least able to afford to pay their council tax end up paying inflated amounts and councils lose out as Equita passes on the money it collects minus its fees. It’s nonsensical for councils, who are legally responsible for everything council tax bailiffs do, to continue to allow this to happen.

“The Local Government Ombudsman has previously criticised Rossendale Council for its lack of monitoring of bailiffs.”

Rossendale Council head of customer services Andrew Buckle said: “We have identified the cause of this issue and it was resolved as soon as it was brought to our attention. The payment arrangement that Mr and Mrs Hanson made with the bailiffs was unfortunately recorded incorrectly due to a technical error with the bailiff’s computer and digital pen.

“The technical issue has been resolved now and the fees that were charged have been removed. Mr and Mrs Hanson have now paid their outstanding arrears in full and the case is now closed.”
Dean said cases similar to the Hansons were being repeated across the North West.

Seek advice

He said: “I would encourage anybody presented with an inflated council tax account by Equita to complain to their council and then, if necessary, the Local Government Ombudsman. Do not use the bailiff’s own complaints procedure as this is pointless and conceals the problem: it is councils that are legally responsible. If in doubt seek advice from your local CAB.”

Photo of Kerry and Kieran Ganson: Catherine Smyth

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Bailiff’s false start

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.