The staggering amount of court summonses sent by the Vale of Glamorgan council for unpaid council tax during the pandemic has been revealed.

The Vale council stopped chasing people for unpaid council tax debt when the first coronavirus lockdown began in March last year, due to concerns of the economic impact of the pandemic — but then carried on in September.

The first court hearing since the pause had been scheduled for Thursday, January 14. But this was postponed until March 10 due to the current level four lockdown.
A recent freedom of information request has now revealed that, since September, the Vale council has sent 69 court summonses to people who haven’t paid council tax.

A court summons for unpaid council tax means the council asking a magistrate to order those in debt to pay back what they owe in full, plus court costs too.

The Vale council website lists “invalid defences” debtors can make to a magistrate when in court: “You can’t afford to pay; you have applied for council tax benefit, discount or exemption; or you have not received the notices sent to you.”

After court, some unpaid debts are then sent to bailiffs, who have the power to enter the homes of people who can’t pay council tax and sell their possessions to make up the money owed.

Since last September, the Vale council referred 161 unpaid debts to bailiffs, according to the freedom of information request. The council doesn’t employ its own bailiffs, but contracts out the work to the Merthyr-based bailiffs Swift Credit Services.

The costs of hiring the bailiffs are also added to the total debt each individual owes to the council.

A liability order issued by a magistrate can also force those in debt to give details of their income to the council, who can ask employers to deduct the debt directly from wages or salaries and send money to the council. A similar process is in place for people on benefits.

A Vale of Glamorgan Council spokesperson said: “The summons received were issued before Wales returned to a national lockdown on December 19. Once national measures were reintroduced, all court cases were adjourned until March 10, when we hope restrictions will have been eased.

“Enforcement agent action was suspended during the first lockdown. This has now restarted, but only in relation to debts incurred before last March when restrictions were first introduced.

“These payments are now a further 10 months overdue. Paying council tax is not optional. This is a vital revenue stream that helps the authority provide a range of services on which residents rely.

“Issuing a court summons or taking enforcement action is always a last resort and such methods are used only where customers have persistently defaulted on payments and rejected all other attempts at resolution.”