Citizens Advice Rother
We provide free confidential and impartial advice and campaign on big issues affecting people's lives.
Our goal is to help everyone find a way forward, whatever problem they face.
We are part of the Citizens Advice network across England and Wales.
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Research & Campaigns
Don’t put your Head in the Sand
At Citizens Advice Rother District we are encouraging people to contact us when they are struggling to pay their Council Tax bill.
Currently, if a payment is missed, a Council Tax bill can escalate within weeks to having to pay the whole year’s bill plus over £400 of Court costs and Bailiffs fees.
We are running a `Head in the Sand` Campaign to raise awareness of the possible consequences of not paying Council tax bills, for people who would rather bury their head in the sand than face their difficulties head on.
We can help people to agree an affordable payment arrangement by liaising with the Local Authority or Enforcement Agents directly on their behalf.
Council Tax Arrears, August 2019
Council Tax arrears are currently the most common debt problem Citizens Advice helps people with.
Last year our local services around England and Wales helped more than 96,000 people who were struggling to make their Council Tax payments on time.
Citizens Advice estimates over £560 million in fees were added to Council Tax debts in 2016/17 nationally, this includes £300 million of Bailiffs fees which is particularly concerning as some of these fees had to be paid before any Council Tax arrears could be recovered by the Local Authority.
To each household in Council Tax arrears this is the equivalent to adding nearly £278 per year to their household debt.
On average Citizens Advice clients in Council Tax debt have just £14 per month in disposable income.
It is very easy to get into arrears with Council Tax and Citizens Advice research shows that missing one payment of the National average Council Tax of £179 in the first month of the financial year can escalate to a debt of over £2219 in just a few weeks.
NB – When someone falls behind on their Council Tax bill they become liable for the rest of their annual bill after only 2 weeks. Two types of fees are then added on top of the original tax debt; Court costs (typically approx. £80) and Bailiff fees (commonly circa £310).
At Citizens Advice, Rother District, we see people seeking advice on a variety of topics – from Employment and Debt to Relationships, Benefits and Smart Meters.
What became apparent in the Summer of 2016 was that there were a significant number of people seeking advice about demands from Bailiffs for Council Tax arrears, sums of money that were quite unaffordable for our clients.
This coincided with Citizens Advice nationally publishing the Council Tax Protocol (click here). Collection of Council Tax arrears Good Practice Protocol developed in partnership with the Local Government Association; essentially this was aimed at how Local Authorities and their Enforcement Agencies (Bailiffs) and Debt Advice Agencies could work together in the best interests of residents, especially those who are vulnerable.
Following our request, Rother District Council voted to sign up to the Protocol in February, 2018. We continued to see people who owed heavy arrears, often as a result of the Bailiffs fees that had been added to the original bill.
The problem was exacerbated by those on the lowest income – typically living solely on benefits and having to pay the minimum of 20% Council Tax that came into force in April, 2016. Prior to this, these clients would have been eligible to 100% Council Tax Reduction, as Hastings Council still offer now.
When Rother applied the 20% charge many residents were unprepared, leading to arrears.
Many of the clients we saw were unable to agree an affordable payment arrangement as the Bailiff would not even talk to them until they had paid off some of the outstanding debt, often a few hundred pounds, which they did not have.
We raised our concerns with the Local Authority and after constructive conversation they facilitated meetings between ourselves and each of their 3 Enforcement Agencies.
It was agreed that residents with Council Tax arrears would be able to set up an affordable payment arrangement, either with the Council directly or, more usually, with the Bailiffs themselves, subject to providing Income and Expenditure evidence. 2 of the 3 Agencies agreed to put a hold on the account if the debtor was in the process of seeking debt advice, with us or another Debt Agency.
It can be very frightening to receive a bill which you cannot pay, let alone when it is increasing exponentially as unexpected additional costs are added; very often people have other problems to consider too – family, work, relationship breakdown or mental health – and it can all seem overwhelming. For many people the problem worsens as the bill mounts. It is understandable that they `stick their head in the sand` hoping it will all go away.
At Citizens Advice Rother District we are encouraging people to come to us if they need help to set up an affordable payment arrangement for their Council Tax bill, including Personal Budgeting and Income and Expenditure assistance. In the longer term we hope that the Local Authority will move away from using punitive methods to collect Council Tax arrears.
In April of this year, the Government announced that it will review the way Local Authorities collect Council Tax. A Government pilot scheme to recover unpaid Council tax through deductions was rolled out from Monday 8th July, 2019 to almost 30 Local Authorities in England.
Citizens Advice would like changes made to the legislation governing Local Authorities:
Stop people being asked to pay their entire annual bill if they miss 1 monthly payment.
Adds statutory guidance stating that Councils must attempt to develop an affordable repayment plan for the arrears before taking the debt through the Courts.
Let Councils collect debts without having to use processes – such as a Court Order – which incur fees for the person in debt.
Remove the threat of imprisonment for Council Tax arrears in England completely.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said:
“Our research shows harsh collection methods added half a billion pounds in fees to peoples Council Tax debts in 2016/17 alone.
It is encouraging to see Local Authorities trying to reduce the use of Bailiffs but any collections must be affordable and should not leave people on low incomes with too little to live on.
The government needs to fundamentally reform the regulations governing how Local Authorities collect debts and give them more flexibility. People should not be charged a full years` bill after a single monthly payment is missed or threatened with imprisonment.”
Tony Gaskins interviewed
BBC Radio Humberside, 13/12/2017, 13:02:49
Tony Gaskins, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice North East Lincolnshire was interviewed on BBC Radio Humberside about the upcoming rollout of Universal Credit. He said that the local service was working with the job centre to make sure people have access to support as they make their claim. He added that he is working with local libraries to assist people who need help to use computers.
Energy 'You don't always need to change provider'
BBC Radio Suffolk, 7/12/2017, Lesley Dolphin programme (4 mins in)
Michelina Partridge from Citizens Advice Suffolk West appeared on BBC radio to advise listeners on how to save money on their energy bills. "Energy companies can charge more than one price for gas and electricity, so the easiest thing to do is check your bill; on there will always be a box that should say if they can offer you a cheaper tariff," she said.
"Quite often you don't need to change provider."
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Advice is available via email for our public site at www.citizensadvicerotherdistrict.org.uk
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