Wednesday 29 February 2012 11.07pm
Yes I had this experience a couple of years ago following a second summons. I know of one other who received a summons and had paid. I don't think she attended the court so may well have been pursued by bailiffs but she had by then left the area.
The Liability Order is issued by the magistrates at Camberwell Green not the council; they are so hand in glove with the council that it amounts to the same thing.
Going to the court is like playing dragons and dungeons, you don't discover the rules until you have been zapped. The summons refers to "relevant law" which is Council Tax (administration and enforcement) regulations 1992 [it’s on the web] Sections 30 to 34 are those relating to issue of summons, court appearance and issue of Liability Order - not that the court takes much notice of them.
If you want to get in front of the magistrate you have to refuse to talk to the council's officers outside court 4, definitely don't show them the summons. To defeat the claim you need proof of payment, for example council receipt, bank statements, cancelled cheque or correspondence from your bank that the sum has been transmitted. That the council hasn't received the money isn't relevant to section 34(6). Don't be surprised if the council doesn't bring any evidence and the magistrate adjourns the hearing for two months for them to find it. Even if the court adjourns the hearing they may well still issue a Liability Order unlawfully.
If you do talk to the council outside court 4 they will do everything they can to stop you putting your case to the magistrate. On our first visit they ‘adjourned’ the hearing for 2 months to ‘search for the payment’. The day before the new date they sent a letter stating that they had ‘withdrawn the summons'.
We later learned that this meant only that they had ‘suspended recovery action’ and a year later received another summons. At the second hearing I learned that this is their usual practice. The last time I went to the court the council’s revenue court officer with two thugs (security officers I assume) stood in front of the court room door blocking it saying “You can’t go in there” in spite of the fact that magistrates courts are open to the public.
I have since learned that if the council cannot find your payment on their own ‘suspense account’ they have no means of tracing it outside their walls.
If you complain to the court they say that the council have no authority to prevent you putting your case to the magistrates but the court refuses to take any action against the council or its agents.
Complaints to the council get you a load of platitudes, denials and statements of administrative error. If you are lucky you might get a bit of forgery thrown in.
The council may give compensation following a complaint, the Ombudsman has set tariffs. They should pay costs, including loss of earnings, but you may have difficulty getting costs out of them. After my first summons I finally took my claim for costs back to the court where the council sent a message via a court officer that they had already paid the costs - they hadn't. After further complaints I finally got a grudging letter with a £10 note which covered my costs.
Finally it is not Southwark Council
who administer revenue but an agent, Liberata, who also support 18 other councils. Are they suffering too?
You can get information from Consumers Advice Bureau.