It's approaching that time again when Cornwall Council next apply to the Magistrates' court for Council Tax liability orders.
This is only one of several applications made to the court each year. These are necessary to obtain legal paperwork enabling recovery staff to pursue struggling council taxpayers for arrears.
Once an order is granted, a number of options are available to enforce payment including bailiffs, attachment of earnings or benefits, bankruptcy and committal to jail.
Already, householders will have accrued £35 costs. The Summons comprises a court fee and the authority's administration costs. The court's fee is £3 for each application whether or not Magistrates grant the order, which If obtained costs residents a further £20.
Last year saw 21,313 account payers summoned to appear at the Magistrates' court, where 14,982 liability orders were granted. This means at £35 for each summons and £20 for a liability order, the costs raised by the council totalled more than £1.04 million – an average £87,133 a month.
An application for an award of costs is made at each court hearing for the Benches consideration. Though in practice they have already been decided and a demand made around two weeks in advance of the scheduled court date.
Whilst the authority will have notified the Clerk to the Justices of these costs, the court may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority, so although these costs have been predetermined they can be challenged in court.
Every householder has the right to attend the hearing and appear before Magistrates in accordance with Article 6 (right to a fair trial) of the Human Rights Act 1998.