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Sunday 9 October 2011

Booker’s Sleight Of Hand

For once, the Maily Telegraph’s resident doomsayer Christopher Booker is not dedicating his column to railing against those who dissent from his view on climate change. Instead, today’s number one target is local Government, as if there is not enough mud slung at councillors and officers already by the non-job holders of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA).

Like the TPA, Booker believes that local authorities are guilty of unfairly levying add-on charges for a variety of services which, by implication, he believes should be provided free of charge, especially when his colleague Richard North, the one who helped him leave the Telegraph with a six-figure legal bill after they libelled Rajendra Pachauri, is concerned.

North, we are told, was hit by “illegal charges” after “paying his council tax in full to Bradford Council”. Let’s just pause for a moment to take in what North did: Bradford Council – and any other council – does not penalise its council tax payers for making payments. It only does so after the payment deadline passes and reminders remain unanswered. So his pal was seriously late paying up.

Having not spelt this out, Booker then tells that a council somewhere in the UK – which, unsurprisingly, he does not name – “admits ... the cost of issuing a reminder notice ... can be as little as £1.22” before making the leap to summonses and liability orders. This is grossly misleading, as a summons is not just another reminder. It is the first stage of legal action to recover outstanding debt.

So the amount he quotes for Bradford Council, £80 for issuing a summons and subsequent liability order, is not a way of making £77.56 profit as Booker implies. No costs are shown: his subsequent suggestion that issuing these documents “earned the council £3.33 million” last year is therefore fatuous. And the charges are not illegal, as he suggests.

What has happened is that Richard North had not bothered to pay his Council Tax – therefore forcing Bradford Council to expend considerable effort in pursuing the debt – and that by the time he paid up, the Council had issued a summons, so late was the payment. There is an easy way to prevent this happening, and that is to abide by the law and make arrangements to pay on time, as the majority do.

After all, why should law-abiding citizens subsidise the likes of Richard North, or anyone else who would rather use services without paying for them?

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