South Oxfordshire Council Debt – Do You Need to Pay?
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If you have South Oxfordshire council debt then it is important to deal with it. Tackling the situation promptly and in an effective way will make your life much easier both in the short-term and in the long run. With that in mind, here is a quick guide on how to deal with South Oxfordshire council debt.
What you need to know about South Oxfordshire council
South Oxfordshire council is a local authority in Oxfordshire. It provides a range of services, some of which may be chargeable. This means that, in theory, there are many reasons why you could have South Oxfordshire council debt. In practice, however, the likeliest option is council tax arrears, followed by business rate arrears and then parking fines.
What you should do if you are contacted about South Oxfordshire council debt
You need to check who the caller says they are, how much they say you owe and why they say you owe it. If you are contacted by phone, you could take down these details during the call or request for them to be sent to you.
If you request for them to be sent to you, then think carefully about what details you give the caller since it could be a scam. In particular, think very carefully about giving them your current home or work address.
Email is generally the safest option, preferably a secondary account rather than your main “friends and family account”. Ask for all details to be sent to you in the body of an email, i.e. not in an attachment. Exercise the usual precautions regarding email from an unknown source.
Verifying the identity of South Oxfordshire council
Although it’s important to deal with debts promptly, it’s also very important to keep personal security in mind at all times. This means that if someone contacts you claiming to be pursuing South Oxfordshire council debt, your first step needs to be to confirm that they are who they say they are.
Usually, the easiest way to do this is to contact South Oxfordshire council directly and check with them. The contact details for South Oxfordshire council are:
South Oxfordshire District Council
135 Eastern Avenue
Textphone users dial 18001 then the area code (01235) then the number you want.
Verifying the identity of bailiffs working for South Oxfordshire council
If you are contacted by bailiffs claiming to be working for South Oxfordshire council, then you also need to request the name, address, telephone, website and email of their company and then verify the information with South Oxfordshire council themselves. Councils can and do pass debt onto bailiffs, but it could also be a scam.
Check if the debt actually relates to you
With any debt, you firstly need to check that you are the person the creditor is trying to contact. If not, you need to contact the creditor and explain why you think they have contacted the wrong person.
With council tax, you then need to check whether you actually are the “liable person” as set out in the legal “hierarchy of liability”. Again, if you do not agree that you are, then you need to contact the local authority and explain why not.
If your challenge is based on the fact that you do not consider yourself to have been resident at the property (although you may have stayed there), then it’s advisable to indicate where you consider yourself to have been resident during the time in question and why. If you paid council tax to another local authority, then it’s strongly recommended to mention this and provide proof if at all possible.
With business rate arrears, you need to check whether the debt belongs to the business or whether you can be held personally liable for it. This can be very complicated and you might want to take legal advice.
What to do if you think you are being pursued for a debt you do not owe
If you believe that your local authority has made a mistake then you need to contact them and advise them that you wish to challenge their claim and why. Even if you’re upset, keep emotion out of the communication, just stick to the facts and state them as succinctly as possible.
Copy any reference numbers you are given in your correspondence (it makes life easier for everyone) and supply proof of any statements you make if you possibly can.
To whom it may concern,
I believe your claim for £X council tax arrears is in error because it relates to the property at 1 Oak Drive for the period 01/01/2020 to 01/03/2020. I moved out of that property on 31/12/2019, since which time I have been registered for council tax at my present address of 1 Acorn Drive.
What to do if you think you are being pursued for a debt you do owe
First of all, you need to check if the debt is still enforceable. The basic rule of thumb is that in the UK outside Scotland, a council tax debt can be enforced for six years after it becomes due. In Scotland, however, a council tax debt can be enforced for twenty years after it becomes due.
After this time, it becomes “statute-barred” (outside Scotland) or “prescribed” (Scotland), which basically means it can’t be collected. There is some nuance here, so always check thoroughly before you make this claim, but if a debt is old, it is certainly worth seeing if it is statute-barred/prescribed.
If a debt is owed and is not statute-barred/prescribed then you will need to make arrangements to pay it unless you intend to go insolvent. Although going insolvent may be the right course of action for some people, it is a very significant decision and should only be taken after all other options have been explored.
What to do if your debt has already been passed on to bailiffs
If at all possible, you want your debt returned to your local authority to be repaid in accordance with a payment plan you can manage. You have nothing to lose by contacting them to ask them about this.
Do your best to give them an explanation of how you got into debt with them, explain your current financial situation and suggest a plan for repaying the debt which will work in your current circumstances.
If they say yes, you gain breathing space and avoid the potential hassle and expense of dealing with bailiffs (and their fees). If they say no, then really, you’re no worse off than you were before and you move to contacting the bailiffs with an explanation of your financial situation and a feasible plan for repayment (bailiffs do not need to know how you got into debt).
Understanding how bailiffs work
A bailiff’s job is to recover as much money as possible as quickly as possible. They can put debtors under pressure to pay by adding interest to the debt and by taking further enforcement action, including confiscating goods. What’s more, they can add fees for the work they do, which will then be added to the debt.
This means that if you can afford to pay the entire debt outright (without compromising your basic standard of living), then it is usually very much in your best interests to do so. If you cannot, then it is very much in your best interests to make the bailiffs a reasonable offer to repay the debt (and show them why it is reasonable) and it is very much in their best interests to accept it.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, bailiffs know perfectly well that they can only get what you have. If they have reason to believe that you could pay if you wanted, but are holding out on them, they will apply all the pressure they legally can. If, however, you really can’t pay, at least not all at once, there is no point in them trying to force the matter because you could end up going insolvent and then they may get nothing.
Secondly, bailiffs have to answer to the local authority, which in turn has to answer to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. In other words, if they behave unreasonably towards you, there could be serious repercussions for them.
In the unlikely event that you make what you consider to be a reasonable repayment offer and the bailiffs refuse, then you can make a formal complaint. In addition to complaining to the bailiffs themselves, it is advisable to copy in your local authority (as the bailiffs are working for them) and you might want to copy in your local councillor as well. If you don’t know who they are, you can usually find out on the local authority website.
In the even more unlikely event that this gets you nowhere, then you can complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. Your complaint would be about your local authority rather than the bailiffs, but if it was upheld, then the council would have to deal with the bailiffs.
Never let bailiffs into your home
The golden rule of dealing with bailiffs is that you do whatever you can to prevent them from entering your home. Never give them permission and never make it easy for them to gain entry without your consent. Specifically, lock your doors and be careful about opening your windows.
Quite bluntly, while there are rules about what bailiffs can and cannot do, rules only mean anything if you can enforce them. In other words, if a bailiff uses “unorthodox means” to gain entry to your home, you will only be able to make a successful complaint if you can prove it. Even if you can, they will have had the opportunity to assess your belongings and what they are worth.
Effectively, much the same comments apply. If you can pay off the debt at once, you generally should. If you can’t you need to contact your local authority to set up a repayment plan you can afford. As before, in the unlikely event that you make what you consider to be a reasonable offer and your local authority declines it, you can make a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
If you ignore your local authority/bailiffs, they will wind up taking enforcement action. This will generally end up with one of two outcomes. Either you will pay back the debt plus any interest, fees and charges accrued during the recovery process or you will go insolvent. In some cases, you could even wind up in prison, although this is extremely rare.
What happens if you struggle with the repayment plan
Traditionally, if you make a repayment plan, you have to stick to it no matter what. In principle, this is still true. In practice, creditors are increasingly aware that fewer people have traditional “steady” incomes and that hence somebody who struggles to pay one month may well be able to make it up the next or over the next few months.
What this means in practice is that if you are struggling with a payment one month, you need to make sure that you communicate the fact and how you propose to remedy it. Similarly, if your circumstances change, then communicate that too. This includes if they change for the better. Honesty really is the best policy and so is paying off your debt as quickly as you can.
If, however, you really cannot afford repayments at all, then you should get professional debt advice as you may need to go insolvent.
If you have South Oxfordshire council debt you want to keep with South Oxfordshire council if at all possible. If it has been passed onto bailiffs, see if you can persuade the local authority to take back the account. If you can afford to repay the debt immediately, then it is generally in your best interests to do so. If not, then you should try to set up a repayment plan you can afford. If you can’t afford repayments at all, you need to get professional debt advice.