Council Tax – the Hidden Sting

Bristol Pensioner Barry Cash (70) warns of the hidden cost of Council Tax arrears. If Covid-19 has destroyed your income paying your Council tax may not be a priority. But getting into arrears has a hidden cost.

If you ignore the final demand Bristol City Council will issue a summons. This asks the Magistrates Court for a liability order. This is not an order to pay. It simply says that you are liable for the tax. The catch is that the Council add expenses of £92.50p.

It says that the costs are “non-negotiable”. This is the truth – but not all of it! In fact costs are at the discretion of the Magistrates. If you are in desperate circumstances they may not award costs. But you have to attend court and give your reason why costs should be waived.

“In my case I was told at every stage that I didn’t need to attend court” said Barry. “I know many families are struggling due to Covid” he continued. “I’d like them to know about this”. You can email if you’d like to ask for more details.

Barry has written to Mayor Marvin Rees and the Chair of Bristol Magistrates and asked them to reform the system. So far neither have replied.

In 2017/18, 14,628 liability orders were granted, all with costs. “Is it really likely that not a single one of these cases was deserving enough for the costs to be waived?” asks Barry.

That year the Council charged £100 in costs. But Barry has discovered that the Council uses a company called Docmail to send out the summonses. They charge 52p plus Vat for printing both sides of A4, putting it in an envelope and posting it. What did the other £99.48p go on? “Is the Council profiteering from the poorest people in the City?” He’d like to know.