The epidemic of criminality by bailiffs and law breaking by local councils is being dragged blinking into the sunlight thanks to the Citizens Advice Bureau, which is accusing councils of letting bailiffs get away with threatening and aggressive behaviour when collecting council tax debts.
The CAB report that in a survey of 500 people who were being subjected to bailiff action instigated by local authorities, 38% said that they were charged fees for visits bailiffs never made and 40% reported that they were threatened with the removal of items that did not belong to them. Both of these actions constitute criminal behaviour. The bailiffs’ ‘trade body’ (no, really), the Civil Enforcement Association, is aggressively denying the findings and rubbishing the survey’s validity, saying:
This is based upon distorted facts, the use of pseudo statistical analysis and highly emotive and inappropriate language. This self-selecting sample of 500 unhappy individuals cannot be extrapolated to imply that it reflects the situation amongst the general population of debtors.
The problem for the association and the vested interests of its membership is that we know from many low profile stories in the local press, and write ups on blogs, that what is being described in the CAB report is not out of the ordinary, but typical features of bailiff action.
The only reason the Civil Enforcement Association is able to say what has been attributed to its director general, Steven Everson, is that councils wrongly and deliberately refer complaints about bailiffs operating on their behalf back to the bailiffs themselves, where the complaints are routinely ignored. Even where complaints are made to the police no action is taken, for fear that taking action against entities working on behalf of the establishment will undermine the establishment’s ability to extract monies it has determined for itself as being due.
With enforcement of the law not forthcoming because the police ignore the reports made to them despite the evidence provided, and despite reports of criminal behaviour being wrongly and deliberately written off as civil matters, the only organised voice for a large number of victims of fraud perpetrated by bailiffs and councils, is Citizens Advice. How long that lasts, before pressure is appliedon the CAB to put the matter back under the carpet, remains to be seen.
For newer readers not familiar with the issues, a brief explanation…
The most common example of criminal behaviour is the fraudulent charges applied for liability orders by councils. The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 (as amended), permit councils to charge ‘costs reasonably incurred’ for liability orders to enforce council tax demands. The court fee cost of liability orders, according to the Magistrates’ Courts fee schedule, is £3.00. When factoring in administration and postage overheads the total charged to the resident should be no more than £10. Yet many councils are charging between £80 – £125 per order, making a profit after costs reasonably incurred. See here and here. This is blatantly against the law. Also against the law is the practice of bailiffs charging for visits they have not made, charging fees that are higher than the statutory schedule for fees, threatening behaviour and intimidation, and threatening to undertake actions they have no power to carry out, such as entering a home or changing the locks unless payment is made immediately – which happens frequently. Councils also seek to evade responsibility for the actions of their contractors despite full responsibility resting with them as is made clear by the government:
The hypocrisy in all this is we have an establishment that uses the law to ensure people who do not pay the council tax demand in full are threatened, bullied and harrassed until the money is prised from them. Yet the same establishment works in concert to ensure when its own break the law, no legal action will follow. The rules are only for the little people.