‘Bidandi’ is a refugee who was granted asylum in the UK. He suffers from PTSD and other mental health problems as a result of his experiences in his home country. After leaving National Asylum Support Service accommodation Bidandi was made homeless. The local authority in which he was resident recognised his vulnerability and placed him in accommodation in a neighboring borough in 2013. He remains in the same property today and is currently in receipt of ESA, PIP and Housing Benefit.
When he moved into this accommodation he was not informed by either authority that he would now be liable to pay council tax and would need to apply for Council Tax Support. While resident in asylum support accommodation he had not be liable for council tax so didn’t know he now had to pay it. Despite being liable Bidandi did not receive a council tax bill until January 2017. This council tax ‘reminder’ (dated December 2016) was the first piece of council tax related correspondence he had received from the local authority and it demanded the immediate payment of £3,813 – his full liability dating back to June 2013.
Assuming this must be a mistake Bidandi contacted the council where someone finally advised him to apply for Council Tax Support. Upon processing his application the council found him to be entitled to full support but that this would not be backdated to cover the arrears. Despite making a payment of £60 towards the arrears (which was all he could afford) the council refused to adjourn his summons and were granted a liability order for the arrears, adding more than £100 in court costs to the debt.
Faced with the prospect of an impending visit from the bailiffs Bidandi contacted Z2K in desperation. After several attempts we finally got the council to suspend enforcement action pending a Section 13A application for discretionary relief of the arrears. This is a little used power, granted to councils by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, allowing the discretionary relief of council tax arrears in any situation deemed appropriate by the authority. In Z2K’s experience council’s rarely properly exercise their discretion in this regard.
Fortunately in this instance Bindandi’s clear vulnerability, lack of knowledge of council tax liability, limited financial means and the failure of the council to properly bill him in the first place combined to make a compelling case for writing off the arrears. In the end the council granted the application and wrote off a total of £4,429.58 in arrears.
This case is a clear example of maladministration rife in council tax collection and how quick councils are to move straight to enforcement action without considering the debtors circumstances, even when their vulnerabilities are known to the authority. In this instance the council has done the write thing but others in similar situation aren’t always so fortunate.