Bristow & Sutor hosted two webinars this month discussing findings, successes and lessons learned after the recent return to enforcement. Our ‘Recommencing enforcement visits...one month on’ sessions were held virtually over two days in early October.
One of our guest speakers was Chris Pembleton from Nottingham Revenues and Benefits, who raised the topic of Council Tax recovery, court proceedings and how liability orders and hearings are impacted at present; along with providing some insight into some successes that have been seen so far.
Chris began by explaining the difficult decision that all local authorities had been faced with about whether to pause collections activity. Based on risk vs duty to collect and given the unknowns around the economic impact of the furlough scheme, the decision was made by Nottingham City Council to adopt a business as usual approach as much as possible; making adaptions to processes as required as time progressed.
From around June, the issue of a lack of notice on whether courts were going to open up and whether debt could be unlocked to progress it through to liability order, became more prominent. As such, Nottingham City Council introduced two additional reminder communications for debtors, tweaking letters to give mention to COVID-19 circumstances and designed to generate contact with people who may not have been faced with outstanding debts before. The aim was to keep this in people’s minds and provide an opportunity for debtors to start conversations if they were concerned they may struggle in the months to come. Just short of 60,000 letters were sent year to date at the beginning of October, an increase of nearly c.20,000 on the year prior.
At the end of September, Nottingham City Council became one of the first local authorities to secure a court hearing in a non-virtual environment. Two court officers attended the Magistrates Court hearing and as part of the letters summoning, it was explained there would be no officers present to deal with payment arrangements. This was very successful, with 3,000 cases agreed and of that around 2,700 liability orders obtained. Three people turned up to court on the day and all were resolved with no issues to report.
The impact on collections has been relatively consistent and performance level recorded were slightly ahead of where Nottingham Council profiled, they expected to be before lockdown measures were introduced. Collection performance is behind where it was last year, which is to be expected, but the decision to continue with activity and introduce further reminders has been successful. This activity has had a direct impact in helping people achieve a manageable payment plan or direction towards the support they need.
Chris concluded that with empathy and forbearance in mind, the experience of Nottingham Council leads him to believe that others should follow suit and begin sending reminders if not doing so already.
Please continue to check our blog for further information on future webinars and how to register to attend. Bristow & Sutor remains committed as ever to its ethos of being Cool, Calm and Collected.