Tamra - Introduce selves Frank introduce BDAC Tamra give brief synopsis of Bailiff survey- idea of 2 bdac advisors in the wake of an increasing concern over the number and nature of bailiff complaints. It was focused entirely on bailiffs collecting ctax as this is what we saw most of and what was thought we could have most influence over. We will be talking a little bit more about the survey in a bit and everyone will get a copy to take away. PPIP project – social policy project with 3 main strands – behaviour of high street banks towards customers in financial difficulty; payment protection insurance and bailiff practices in collecting council tax.
Tamra - When I started working at BDAC if a client came into the office with a council tax debt being collected by bailiffs we would have to phone the bailiff in question on his mobile out on his rounds. You can imagine how the conversation went…………… (Frank) Advisor - “Mrs Band is in receipt of Income Support and can only afford to offer you £3.50 per week” (Tamra) Bailiff - “Oh no, I can’t accept that. I need at least £100 up front then £50 per month after.” (Frank) Advisor - “But Mrs Band can’t afford that and she suffers from depression and anxiety and this is just making it worse.” (Tamra) Bailiff - “No, no, I can’t do anything about that.” Tamra - The advisor would then phone the council and repeat the the clients circumstances only to be told that once it’s with the bailiffs there is nothing that can be done by them and all negotiation has to go through the bailiff.
Council Tax Regs (Law) – Once an LA has a liability order they can only use one type of enforcement action at a time to recover arrears. Council Tax Local Policy – Council Tax dept refusing to get involved once bailiffs are instructed. As they survey was underway, we found the most effective positions to negotiate with at the council tax department were the managers who were responsible for managing the bailiff companies. We obtained a copy of BCC service level agreement for the bailiffs and several other LA service level agreements to use as examples of good practice. We also asked for copy of BCC internal collection guidance and copy of BCC vulnerable persons policy. You may need to make this request under the Freedom of Information Act as sometimes council’s are a little reluctant.( – wouldn’t give info about write off’s etc)
Due to workload of advice workers they were unable to expand the survey to more than 40 clients. We provided other advice agencies with a simple referral form to complete - to avoid putting extra work on already stretched advisors. Copy of questionnaire, results and referral form will be handed out at end.
Complaints- often the word of the bailiff against that of the client. any complaint to the Council should be logged, together with name of the bailiff . This will identify common complaints against particular individuals or firms.
Both sides seeing things from the other perspective - not advising to customers to not pay council tax but actively encouraging customers to prioritise this debt. Meetings led to action points to take forward.
Direct dial telephone numbers and email addresses of senior council tax staff have also been provided for disputed or more difficult cases. Reduced use of committal hearings and bailiffs by setting up affordable payment arrangements over longer periods. Consideration given to writing off any remaining balance where payments are maintained.
No longer need to speak to bailiffs (always a joy) or to provide financial statement where client in receipt of means tested benefit.
Re-training all front of house staff to ask about other debts and signpost or refer for advice. Referral system in place for other LA depts to refer customers with debts. The aim of redesigning the letters is to promote earlier customer engagement Research carried out by Community Finance Solutions at University of Salford
Frank “ With our new working relationship this is how a phone call to council tax might go”: Frank (Adviser): Mrs Band has some arrears with you. Can you put a 30 day hold on the account whilst I investigate her situation. Tamra (Ctax staff) : No problem. I’ll place a hold on bailiff action immediately. Frank (Adviser): I have another client, Miss Swift who also has some arrears. She’s in receipt of Income Support benefit, can you set up payments of £3.40 pw? Tamra (Ctax): Yes, I’ll just check the benefits system to check she’s receiving her full council tax benefit. Yes, that’s fine, I’ll instruct Bristow & Sutor to accept £3.40pw. The bailiff company will contact the client to set up the payments.
Using the post-its that have been provided for you, take 5 to 10minutes to start listing the key action points and ideas for you to start the process towards improving relationships and working practices in your own area. You could even raise issues and problems that might be stumbling blocks. You can do it individually or in groups. As soon as you have some ideas please come and put them up on the sheet at the front where Frank will start to collate them into shared areas. Discuss good ideas and common issues/problems. Get the group to come up with solutions. I’ll take the sheet away and type up the post-its and email it to you along with the finalised partnership report.
Improving relationships with and working practices of local authorities. Tamra Mannin Bristol Debt Advice Centre 02/06/11 Bristol Debt Advice Centre