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North East Lincolnshire Council

Finance Department Grimsby


Civic Offices Knoll Street North East Lincolnshire
Cleethorpes DN32
North East Lincolnshire
DN35 8LN

20 August 2018

Dear Sir/Madam

Re: Council tax Ref: 550 – Formal Complaint (stage two)

I am writing to escalate this matter to stage 2 of the council’s complaints process for review as I am
entirely dissatisfied about the outcome and the way it has been dealt with.

All the responsibility has been passed on to the enforcement contractor to deal with the issues raised
which is not in accordance with the minimum standards for enforcement agents1. Mr Smith has
simply accepted the dubious responses on which he has based his decision to determine that the
concerns were groundless and not worthy of upholding.

A number of the salient points were not addressed by the council’s contractor yet it is evident that
Mr Smith did not challenge this failure. The Council claims to have regard to the ‘Nolan Principles
of Conduct Underpinning Public Life’ which are the basis of the ethical standards expected of
public office holders. However, there is no evidence in the complaint response that these have been
applied to challenge the disreputable behaviour, particular the third of the seven principles
(Objectivity)2.

Requirement to refer complaint to Monitoring Officer but was evidently not

The question of fraud has been raised in the complaint, so according to the council's corporate
feedback policy3, the matter should have been referred to the Monitoring Officer and dealt with in
line with the Council's Policy for Raising a Concern (Incorporating the Whistleblowing Policy).
The policy specifies4 that the matter, depending on the nature of the concern, may be investigated

1
The Ministry of Justice’s ‘Taking Control of Goods: National Standards April 2014’
2
Objectivity – Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best
evidence and without discrimination or bias
3
Appendix B – Complaints dealt with through a different process
4
Page 9 - How the Council will respond to a disclosure
internally, referred to the Police or external Auditor etc. It is doubtful that the whistleblowing policy
was adhered to in any respect because the responsibility for handling the complaint was delegated
to the enforcement contractor.

Accepting what video footage revealed without verification

The complaint centred on the data protection aspect of leaving letters of a sensitive nature lying
around for others to see and whether charging £235 for an enforcement visit made with the view to
obtain payment was fraudulent in nature, if, as was evidently the case, making contact was
deliberately avoided.

The question of whether the £235 enforcement fee was correctly raised and lawful at the particular
stage of proceedings was never raised as an issue in the complaint, rather it was the dubious
circumstances surrounding the charging of it when evidently no contact was attempted.

Therefore only part of one of the four paragraphs in the complaint outcome under the heading
“Case Summary” was remotely relevant to the concerns raised in the complaint which is quoted
below:

“He made his first visit to the property on the 10th July 2018 at 06:20 but was unable to
make contact with anyone so our Agent left a letter requesting that Mr contact him
direct in order to make payment. As warned in our previous correspondence the
Enforcement Fee of £235.00 was correctly raised at this point.”

The outcome letter goes on to say with regards the video footage as follows:

“We can confirm that all our Enforcement Agents wear video badges and record all of their
visits from approaching the premises to returning to their vehicle and this is whether contact
is made or not. As such we have been able to watch the footage from Mr Menzies visit on
the 10th July 2018.

The video footage clearly shows that when Mr Menzies arrived at the property that he was
unable to gain access through the main door to the building and as such he posted a letter in
a sealed envelope through the slight gap in the doorframe.”

There is no evidence that Mr Smith asked for the video footage to verify the contractor’s version of
events. This is the minimum one would expect in the initial stages of an investigation given that the
concerns have been stated to be that I had been in all day on 10 July 2018 when the letter was left
but had not heard the buzzer incorporated into the intercom system located outside the building.
Mr Smith also accepted that the letter was posted through a slight gap in the doorframe without
even making enquiries to assess whether passing a letter successfully through the locked door is a
possibility (I attempted and was unable to).

The bailiff contractor claims to have video footage; this would fit the description of ‘best evidence’,
so it was Mr Smith’s duty as a priority to obtain it and independently verify what was captured (the
fairest and most objective way to proceed). It was exactly this (his inability to independently verify
events) which Mr Smith relied on to justify being unable to make a finding in respect of the second
part of the complaint (document revealing through envelope it was a court summons for non-
payment). It is clear evidence of bias to rely on uncorroborated evidence when it fits the council’s
agenda but to dismiss it if supports the complainant’s concerns.

Acceptance that the regulations were adhered to

Mr Smith has evidently made no decision himself and simply taken what the enforcement
contractor has told him to be correct.

The enforcement contractor justified leaving the letter where it was easily accessible to members of
the public with the nature of his visit revealed through the envelope window on the basis that it was
in accordance with the ‘Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013’. Regulation 8 of those
regulations sets out all the permissible methods for ‘giving notice’ and sub-paragraph (1)(d) of
regulation 8 provides that ‘where there is no letterbox, by affixing the notice at or in a place where
it is likely to come to the attention of the debtor’.

Mr Smith has evidently not questioned the fact that regulation 8 refers to the “Notice of
enforcement”; this was delivered by Royal Mail in accordance with sub-paragraph (1)(d) dated 22
May 2018. My complaint surrounds the hand delivered letter (threat of removal) which was left on
10 July 2018 and is the first Enforcement Stage visit in respect of which a fee of £235.00 is raised.

But even if regulation 8 was referable to hand delivered Enforcement Stage notices, sub-paragraph
(1)(d) provides for ‘where there is no letterbox’. I have a letter box, but putting that to one side as
well, if leaving the notice in a communal place would almost guarantee to disclose the purpose of
their visit to neighbours and anyone who visited the building, then the Ministry of Justice’s
guidance which sets out the minimum standards for enforcement agents was not adhered to. The
council was alerted to para 52 of the National Standards in my complaint which is as follows:

“Enforcement agents should, so far as it is practical, avoid disclosing the purpose of their
visit to anyone other than the debtor or a third party nominated by the debtor, for example an
advice agency representative. Where the debtor is not seen, the relevant documents must be
left at the address in a sealed envelope addressed to the debtor”

It is not good enough to claim that the serving of a notice complied with data protection laws just
because it was left in accordance with one of the methods described under sub-paragraph (1) of
regulation 8. The overarching consideration has to be whether the chosen method would meet the
minimum standards set out in paragraph 52 of the government guidance and because of where the
letter was found and it was obvious without opening it that it concerned enforcement the action fell
short of the minimum standards for enforcement agents.

It has been noted the difference between the envelope type used when a letter is sent by the
enforcement contractor via Royal Mail, and the notice delivered in person, which has a bearing on
the provision of regulation 8 (method of giving notice). The “Notice of enforcement” to which
regulation 8 specifically refers was delivered by Royal Mail date 22 May 2018 and was in a
window-less envelope and gave no clue as to the nature of the letter. However, the hand delivered
notice threatening removal of goods was windowed through which my name, address, flat number
and in red bold capitals the warning, “URGENT - DO NOT IGNORE” were all visible. This
provides insight into why a letter revealing the nature of the visit can not be left in a place where it
can be seen by any other person, or be permissible to do so by virtue of regulation 8 of the Taking
Control of Goods Regulations 2013.

Summons of 15 September 2015

Mr Smith also handled the second part of my complaint negligently concerning the court summons
I received in September 2015 for alleged non-payment of Council Tax. The unpaid amount wrongly
granted on the court order relating to the September 2015 summons is the alleged debt which the
enforcement agent is presently pursuing and therefore logically belongs the same complaint.

The concern was that the nature of the council’s business was obvious by the way the summons had
been positioned in the envelope, i.e., enough of the heading "SUMMONS FOR NON-PAYMENT
OF COUNCIL TAX" was visible through the envelope window.

Mr Smith has demonstrated inconsistency, a strong degree of bias and a lack of objectivity in his
approach to dealing with the matter. He supports his inability to make a finding based on being
unable to independently verify that the summons arrived as the scan I provided to him shows. His
approach is at odds with the way he accepted the enforcement contractor’s account of what was
captured by the agent’s bodycam without obtaining and independently verifying it for himself.
Leaving aside the bias, it was open to Mr Smith to make further enquiries and ask if it was possible
I provide further proof to strengthen my claim that the summons arrived as I allege. I have retained
the original summons and it is obvious from the single fold that the document had not been
manipulated to falsely position the text. Although I don’t have the original envelope it can be
clearly seen from placing it in an envelope recently sent by the council (same size and type) that the
text visible through the envelope is true to the scan.

The number of summonses sent each year typically approaches 20,000 so it is likely that the
enveloping of the summons is automated to some degree and would therefore not likely to have
been just my letter that revealed through the envelope that it was a court summons. Of course, if the
process is manual then it would have been equally significant if it was a deliberate and vindictive
act to make it known to others that I was being summonsed to the court for non-payment of Council
Tax and made more serious due to the fact that my Council Tax payments had been up to date with
no outstanding monies owed.

Yours sincerely