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Local Government Act 2003

Section 80: Amendments relating to distress

179.Under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4 to the LGFA 1992, regulations can be made allowing billing authorities to make an attachment of earnings order, so that the outstanding council tax can be recovered by requiring the debtor's employer to deduct amounts from the debtor’s pay. Quite often, a local authority only finds out about a debtor's employment details late in the enforcement process, after the authority has tried other enforcement mechanisms provided by regulations under Schedule 4, including seeking to levy distress (permitted by regulations under paragraph 7 of Schedule 4), and if that proves unsuccessful, by applying to magistrates for a warrant to commit the debtor to prison (permitted by regulations under paragraph 8 of Schedule 4).

180.For example, a person may only reveal their employment details during a hearing of an application for a warrant of commitment, since the magistrates are required to inquire into the debtor’s means before they can issue a warrant of commitment. Where this happens, rather than proceed with the hearing of an application for a warrant of commitment, the billing authority is likely to serve an attachment of earnings order. However, only the amount specified in the original liability order can at present be recovered through attachment of earnings. This will include the outstanding amount of council tax, plus a sum in respect of the costs of obtaining the liability order (in accordance with regulations made under paragraph 3 of Schedule 4 to the LGFA 1992). It will not, however, include any costs incurred trying to levy distress after the issue of the liability order or any costs incurred during the committal hearing itself.

181.Section 80(1), (2) and (3) will enable costs incurred in trying to levy distress or incurred during the aborted hearing of an application for a warrant of commitment to be recoverable through an attachment of earnings order.

182.Section 80(4) amends paragraph 7 of Schedule 4 to the LGFA by inserting a new sub-paragraph (4A). This will enable regulations to be made by the Secretary of State (in Wales the NAW) to prescribe information which authorities or bailiffs must supply to debtors when distress has been levied or when distress has been attempted unsuccessfully. The existing paragraph 7(4)(a) of Schedule 4 only allows the imposition of requirements on local authorities to supply information prior to the levy of distress. There are no powers to impose requirements to supply information when the process is complete or when someone tries to levy distress but fails.

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