Croydon hires supersnoops in Council Tax clampdown

Croydon Council is moving to boost its Council Tax take by clamping down on the number of people who receive the single person discount, or SPD.

Council Tax assumes that there are at least two people living in any property. If only one person lives at the address as their main residence, they may qualify for a 25 per cent discount.

The clampdown is to start next month, with the council calling in two outside agencies, credit checkers Experian and the council’s revenues and benefits ICT provider, Northgate. Having just made 200-odd staff redundant across the council, and still seeking more “economies” or “efficiencies”, it is difficult to know who will be around at Taberner House to implement anything that Experian and Northgate discover.

On average, 30 per cent of households across the country qualify for the single person discount. Croydon, according to the council’s own figures, has 34 per cent of households claiming SPD.

In an internal Croydon document seen by Inside Croydon, the council claims that this statistical disparity “further supports the need for the review”.

“Ensuring discounts are only given to residents who are eligible is important, as each discount results in a direct reduction in income to the council and therefore in funds available to run local services,” the council document says. 

Any reasonable person might make the same argument for the council – “Efficiency is in our DNA”, according to deputy CEO Nathan Elvery – to do more to reduce the ever-growing mountain of millions of pounds of uncollected Council Tax.

The methods to be used by Croydon’s agents in this SPD exercise are intriguing. In this age where we are constantly warned about how much personal data we “share”, and the perils of “identity theft”, our council will be using the information held on us by financial supersnoops Experian.

“The review will consist of crossing referencing the council’s database against the large number of databases held by Experian to identify where a property may hold more than one adult occupier.  It is only where a discrepancy/match is discovered that a customer will then be contacted,” the council says.

Croydon expects around 10,000 households to be contacted in this review, by letter, and possibly then with a reminder and an official visit, a significant added workload for the council’s shrinking staff.

The first batch of letters will be dispatched during the week commencing July 11.

Croydon Council’s choice of commercial partners is, as ever, enlightening.

During the past decade, Experian has moved its corporate headquarters from Nottingham to Dublin, presumably for tax avoidance benefits, and made 200 Britons redundant as it outsourced part of its operations to India. Last month, the global company reported a 13 per cent rise in its annual profits, to more than £500 million.

Experian’s PR department has helped to generate this latest nice little earner with Croydon on SPD by putting out an estimate that local councils across Britain are losing out around £100 million a year in improperly allowed discounts. A wonderful headline-grabbing figure which is, at best, a “guesstimate”.

Experian running checks on Croydon residents through its database and computer systems is one thing. But the real work to follow up on wrongly claimed discounts will ultimately still have to be done by council officers.

As  David Magor, of the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation, said in a recent interview in the Guardian on similar “automations” of benefit fraud investigations and finance enforcement, “There will be a tendency to move away from human hands dealing with fraud and relying on risk-based software, which is fine to give you an indication of a potential fraudster.

“But at the end of the day, the real work is done by local government officers getting their hands dirty.”

#proudtoserve

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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1 Response to Croydon hires supersnoops in Council Tax clampdown

  1. Karen Heath says:

    What is disturbing about this is that it provides misleading information about council tax discounts.

    The law contains no such thing as a ‘single person discount’, and if Northgate is observing the council tax administration regulations it should never ever issue any demand notice with a discount on the basis that only one adult has his or her sole residence at the address. In law the notices must be issued on the assumption that the same RATE will apply on every day of the coming year, and the rate applies whenever one adult who ‘counts’ has his or her residence at the address. The law lists who is not counted, or disregarded, and this includes many people who have applied for credit and who are on the electoral register, which is part of Experian’s credit reference data base.

    In asserting that Northgate is investigating ‘discrepancies’ one maligns the majority of people caught up in these exercises, who are investigated despite there being NO inconsistency or discrepancy.

    The law does say that councils must inform taxpayers of the assumption on which their demand notice has been issued, and must also inform them of their duty to correct it if it turns out to be wrong. So it is important not just that Northgate can accurately state and apply council tax discount law but also that it can accurately and clearly state it to taxpayers.

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