Yet another round of Council Tax hearings in Truro Magistrates Court today.
A beautiful sunny hot day and I chose to go along to the Court to observe proceedings. Boy was it hot in the waiting room.
I arrived early, to make sure I got a seat….. no not really, I am the only one mad enough to go and watch.
Today I would at a guess say there were a couple of dozen people that
turned up. Yes, they turned up because they were ‘summonsed’ to do so.
Unlike Dover Council who do their best to promote injustice by telling people “NOT to turn up”
Right, back to Cornwall.
The waiting room got busier, mothers had even brought their children in
pushchairs today. One poor man who was obviously on lots of medication
and wasn’t really fit to be there was getting quite agitated. That all
started when he dropped it all on the floor.
Time passed and the usual was happening. Council Officers were calling people by name and off they go into the side rooms.
I went with one man as he gave permission for me to be there. We shall
call him Steve. A single father to a six year old. Poor guy was in a bit
of a state. I had already taken a brief income and expenditure from
him. It was obvious that this man’s only ‘crime’ was that he was poor.
His only income is JSA, Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit. So much
more needing to go out than he has coming in. Having to make up a
shortfall of £23 per week for his rent before you start is bad enough.
This man didn’t know anything at all about the ‘Exceptional Relief
Fund’. I pointed out that the Council had not done a lot to inform
anybody of this fund. To sum up Steve was told any ‘action’ on his
account would be held off for one month. In order for him to make his
application etc. I did explain to him that should he still wish to see
the Magistrates they may make an order for his costs to be taken off.
Sadly as Steve’s son was only six and due to come out from school 14
miles away, he needed to leave. Liability Order would now be granted in
Moving on, it was over an hour before actual proceedings started. I
along with Mr Waters from Cornwall Council were in the Court. I had to
ask the Clerk for permission this time if I could sit where the Journos
sit because if I sat at the back of the Court, I wouldn’t hear all of
what was being said, nosey aren’t i???
Today we have Three Ladies on the Bench Pat Walker, Fiona Roberts and Sue Biggs.
Clerk Mr Huw Anthony (hope I’ve spelt it right).
Representing the Council Mr Adrian Waters [I'm on first name terms now I think ]
Today, the Three, yes just three cases that wanted to speak were all
brought in together. The Clerk stood and made his speech about how
there were only a few ‘legal defences’ aginst the liability of
CouncilTax. So unless you had one of these blah blah. It was at this
point Mr Waters stood took the Oath and made his speech asking for 1052
Liability Orders to be granted. There we go all done and dusted in about
2 minutes flat!!
A disabled Lady, in fact very disabled. We shall call her Ms W. The
Clerk asked her to come forward, she did so using her stick as an aid
and the the lady beside her came as well. Neither person was asked to
swear an Oath…… Turns out this young Lady Ms W has something called ‘Aphasia’. I
know little about this condition and for those of you that have never
heard of it, this is what it says on the NHS website….. “‘Aphasia’ is a condition which affects the brain and leads to problems using language correctly. People
with aphasia make mistakes in the words they use, sometimes using the
wrong sounds in a word, choosing the wrong word, or putting words
together incorrectly. Aphasia also affects speaking and writing in the
same way. Many people with the condition find it difficult to
understand words and sentences they hear or read.”
So to put it simply, Ms W has no idea really why she was here.
The lady advising her was a Housing Officer ‘Ms S’ and she stated, Ms
W ‘flagged up’ because apparently she has asked to move homes within
Devon and Cornwall Housing. She stated more than once that Ms W has been
‘let down by Social Services’. I kept asking myself, why was this poor
soul here at all? She has severe communication difficulties etc and how
sad that it has come this far. Outcome was that yes, the Magistrates
gave the Liability Order but to their credit they did order that costs
should be removed. One did in fact say that it was ‘out of their
We shall call this lady Ms R. Clerk calls her down and again NO Oath
taken. He eplains again about the ‘Legal Defences’ etc. Ms R had a
bundle of receipts with her. The Magistrates allowed her to speak. She
explained that she had been trying her best to pay and all she owed was
just £8, yes EIGHT pounds. (I can only assume that the figure she quotes
is to date on plan and not the balance for the whole year). I smiled to
myself when she said “actually this here today is waste of Tax Payers
money” . She had however applied for the Transitional Fund. To which Mr
Waters told the Court that he had telephoned Cornwall Council to find
out that the amount Ms R owed has now been reduced. Ms R also pointed
out that WiFi in the home is NOT a luxury when your child needs it for
school projects etc. Nor is a mobile phone contract when you are
disabled and may need to get hold of people in emergencies. This Lady
also faces the ‘Bedroom Tax’. Outcome – Ms R was given the option to
pay by installments the amount left and to contact the Council in order
to sort this. She was however granted that her costs would be taken off.
We shall call this Gentleman Mr Q. Once again NO Oath was taken. He was given permission to address the Magistrates.
Typical case of DWP not rushing anything this one. It turns out that his
Partner/Wife was in the process of having her Benefit changed from one
type to another. What he came out with next made me shudder. The poor
man has a great deal of money worries. He explained that he also has
‘Bedroom Tax’ to find. After several minutes my heart was in my mouth
and ALL three of the magistrates looke a little less comfortable. They
asked him if he had been to CAB etc, he replied, ” I tried to get in but
it is several miles away and now you have to make an appointment. They
can#’t see me for a week”. He was trembling when he stated that “the
money he was given was given as ‘The minimum the LAW says you need to
live on and now he was having to find not one but TWO extra amounts of
money. The Magistrates then asked if he too had filled in a Transitional
Relief’ form. Well, you could have knocked me over when he replied “NO,
I have never heard of it”. I looked at Mr Waters, he looked at me we
both acknowledged each other with a small nod of the head and the Clerk
looked at us both as if to say ‘what just happened?’. Then came the
dreaded ‘F’ word. Yes FOODBANKS. Well that was it for me, the tears
started to roll down my cheeks, I tried to hide it but that didn’t work
very well. This poor man told a Court of Law that he goes without food.
He does this because he simply can not make ends meet. The Magistrates
asked him if he knew of the Local Foodbanks. He replied “Yes but sadly
you can only use these 3 times a year. Oh my I lost it, was really
snivelling now. The Magistrates all could see that this was a case of
severe hardship, sadly though they said ‘”our hands are tied but our
gift to you is that we make No order for costs. Hopefully you can apply
for the Fund and in turn that will reduce your debt to the Council.” Mr
Q did not want to make an ‘arrangement to pay’ at this point as neither
he nor the Council knew how much his actual debt was! Liability order
was granted for the amount that was on the Summons. Mr Q was told to
fill in his form ASAP.
I was in a bit of a state by now and found it hard to write my
notes.As Mr Q was passing me to leave, I nudged his arm, I pulled out
the only Fiver I had in my purse and told him, “It’s not a lot but all I
have on me, please go buy yourself a little food”.
I know all the others saw what I did but quite frankly, I don’t care
what they thought. I may be on Sickness benefits myself but this man’s
need was greater than mine.
It’s 2013 for goodness sake and this is what’s happening ALL OVER the
Country. In fairness to Ms Walker, Richards and Biggs, they could only
do what is permitted, although I would like to think that maybe, just
maybe they wished they could do more. With that I stood and asked if I
could be excused from proceedings.
So lovely people there you have it…… Council Tax for the poorest round 2!!