Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A measured response

As the survey of Council Tax summons and liability order costs continues apace, illustrated (left) is the sort of response we are getting – this one from Ashfield District Council.

You will note that they have very helpfully appended my question to the response letter (click to expand), and then the answer below. But if you compare the two, you will find that the answer is incomplete. They have not given us the total fees charged, as requested.

You might think that you could simply multiply the number of summonses by the fees charged, but that does not give an accurate sum. In many instances, multiple summonses are sent to single householders, as partners and those with shared mortgages are jointly and severally liable. But only one fee is raised per household. Thus, we have to have the totals from the local authority.

What is interesting is that all the recent replies have made the same "mistake" and in each case we have to go back to the authority and ask again for the information. In the case of Birmingham, we've been back three times, and still haven't got the information requested.

However, an interesting element to emerge from Ashfield is the amount by which the combined fees have gone up. In 2003/4 they were £25.00. Now, they are £70.00. According to the Bank of England's inflation calculator, if the fees had been adjusted solely to add in inflation, they would currently stand at £30.82.

Thus, even if costs had been recovered on the basis of what was "reasonably incurred" in 2003, this cannot be the case now. By their own measured response, Ashfield are admitting to a near-£40 illegal profit on each set of documentation. It is no wonder that it and other local authorities are proving so reluctant to provide the information we are requesting. They have a lot to hide, and a lot to answer for.