Thursday 22 October 2009

Islington Council

Yesterday was my day in court. And as someone who doesn't frequent these places, I found it fascinating. I suppose it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the place was filled with the sort of people you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley...or perhaps that view just comes from the prejudice of expectation. Naturally the proceedings are orchestrated by nice middle-class folks who come attired in their designer labels. The contrast with the summonsed couldn't have been greater. Nor should I have been surprised that as I chose to attend in suit and tie (oh my word it was difficult to remember how to knot one of those) I was mistaken for a solicitor. Perhaps I should have taken my chances on that score...Catch me if you can.

The outcome for me was not quite what I'd hoped, but as I had expected given my experience (mainly the divorce court) of courts to do their level best to satisfy no one. The case was adjourned until 10th November to give Islington Council time to contact the trustees and confirm that they accept they are responsible for the outstanding Council Tax. This was even though the court accepted that Islington Council had no prospectof getting a liability order against me.

But for me there was a bigger issue, which entirely hardened my view that Islington Council is incompetent and spiteful. As part of the procedings yesterday, the council was asking the court to agree to something approaching 6000 liability orders. As theses sessions are monthly, I understand, that makes roughly 72,000 orders a year. I find that figure mind boggling, and in itself implies something fundamentally wrong with the council's approach to taxation and the collection there of. But, and this is really what got me going..... the council has to prove that they have sent the demands and the summonses. They do this by having a post book in which they record what has been despatched. The problem yesterday was that the figures in the post book didn't match the number of summonses the Council claimed to have issued. As the court pointed out, that meant that if the liability orders were issued, then some people could receive an order when they haven't received a summons...and if it was an elderly person the shock could be fatal. The council didn't have an answer for that and the whole lot got thrown out. All 6000 of them. The council charges £120 per summons, a cost of £720,000. Plus the loss of revenue...say at a modest of £200/summons...that's £1,200,000. A rough total of £2million. Now call me prejudiced, but that strikes me as grossly incompetent and suggests a completely cavalier attitude to the legal system and to the general public and public funds. I hope the council officials are contrite, but somehow I doubt it judging by their response. And don't forget we pay for this with our taxes - all of us - because the bulk of council revenue comes from central government.


  1. In my experience most councils are exceptionally inefficient because they are run by amateurs. These amateurs employ professionals to carry out council policies & look after the day-to-day administration, but they don't have the ability to judge if the "professionals" are good at their jobs!

    My local council had a prime piece of development land and correctly wanted to make as much money as possible from it. So they invited various contractors to submit schemes and offer money for the land. Good so far...

    Then they awarded the land to a developer for a very nice sum of money. Good? The council agreed that the developer should not have to pay anything until the sceme was complete & properties selling. Hummmm... Then property prices fell, so the developer decided not to develop the land for the forseeable future. The council had, of course, not put any time limit on developing the land - although the price is fixed for all time! So the land lies idle and cannot be sold to anyone else until such times as the developers decide to use it. Is Islinton council that stupid?

  2. utter madness. I understand that 70% of the councils funding comes from central government - so its a huge part of everybody's taxes.

    It makes me hopping mad that they can waste money the way they do, but try to complain and you just get lost in a wash of red tape and doors slamming shut in your face.

    I feel like I'm turning into Victor Meldrew sometimes but it's enough to make me scream "I don't believe it"

  3. I find councils really quite depressing in many ways. Give the rest of us public servants a bad name.


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