Sunday, 7 November 2010

Council tax summonses hit a new high

We all have to pay our council tax, and we know we can be imprisoned for non-payment. The thought of appearing before the magistrates’ court is enough for the vast majority of us to pay up on time, even though we know so much of our hard earned cash is being wasted in town halls across the country.

A story emerged last week that both Hull City Council and East Riding Council have being issuing summonses for late payment as if they are going out of fashion. If you wish to pay your council tax each month by payment methods other than direct debit, East Riding Council insists you pay on the 1st of the month, and Hull insists you pay by the 7th of the month.

There are many reasons why some people do not choose the direct debit option. Some pensioners don’t trust it. Some people may have been declared bankrupt and cannot open a bank account. Many people are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate and cannot be certain to have the cash available at the set time. Surely, it would not be too much to expect councils to show some consideration? If a payment for November is paid in November, does it matter if it’s paid on the 7th of the month, or the 15th? Councils think differently and are making sure those who can least afford it get the nasty letters and demands.

I will give you an example. Someone who I know contacted me recently. He has just had to find over £600 to pay off his council tax bill in full for the rest of the year. His crime was being just two days late on his payments on three occasions in the past seven months. His business is not doing very well at the moment and life for him is a struggle. Like many people in Britain he is having to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’. He has never been more than a couple of days in arrears, but is Hull City Council bothered? Not in the least. No offers of help and certainly no notification of what will happen if you pay your bill late for a third month.

People who chose to pay by direct debit are also falling foul of the rules too.  If a bank pays the council a day late because the due date falls on a weekend, that triggers off a nasty letter. Think about it. If your bank pays your direct debit a day late three times in a year, you will be told you have forfeited your right to pay in instalments, and will receive a demand for the full amount. If you don’t pay, you will be taken to court. 

We are only seven months into the current financial year, and already summonses have been issued to more than 10% of households in Hull. At this rate, around 1 in 5 households will receive a summons by the end of March. If a private company treated people in this way councillors across the country would be up in arms. When councils treat people badly, councillors stay quiet.

Council tax bills have doubled over the last decade. All of us have witnessed councils wasting our cash in variety of different ways, and despite public opposition, councillors have not listened. They expect us to pick up the bill. If they hadn’t wasted so much money, council tax bills would be lower and those struggling to make ends meet would find it easier to pay.

If you want to know how your council treats people with financial difficulties, and how many summonses they have issued this year, contact me (, and I will send you a ready made Freedom of Information Request for you to send off.