Council in ‘multiple identities’ row

Rob Austin and his wife Inese
Rob Austin and his wife Inese

A CAMPAIGNER and a legal professional who represented his wife in court have hit out at the way Wigan Council penalises non-payment of council tax.

Rob Austin claims the system used by the local authority does not follow regulations after he became involved in a lengthy legal wrangle.

The Ashton 49-year-old says the liability order issued against his wife Inese in 2014 failed to comply with the Council Tax Administration and Enforcement Regulations, a claim backed up by Neil Heffey who represented her in the dock.

The couple initially withheld their payment after research suggested the town hall was operating under a confusing set of titles and regularly switched its official name on council tax documents.

Legal proceedings last year for failure to disclose details failed to shed light, with papers being issued under different names including Wigan Council, Wigan Borough Council and Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council.

At one point the local authority’s legal representative even applied to the judge to change the name of the prosecuting party.

Confusion deepened when the local authority suddenly withdrew its prosecution against Mrs Austin for failure to disclose information in March 2014.

However, a further hearing in November related to non-payment found in favour of Wigan Council.

Mr Heffey is now asking for the authorities to take a serious look at the way non-payment of council tax is pursued.

Mr Heffey, who is practice manager at DDE Law in Liverpool, said: “The case against Rob and Inese was basically the council refusing to provide details on their legal status.

“Rob had done some investigating into the background of which authority he should be paying council tax to and they refused to enter into any communication or negotiation with him.

“In Inese’s case there wasn’t even a liability order, it was a computer print-out. It was just a sheet with the ratepayer’s name on it and they called that an order.

“I understand councils need to cut costs but the courts need to pay attention to this.”

Mr Austin has been frustrated in his attempts to uncover the inner workings of the authority, with attempts to identify the billing authority given legal permission to collect council tax in Wigan being thwarted by Freedom of Information (FOI) authorities on data protection grounds.

He today criticised the town hall’s lack of transparency and said answering his questions should be simple.

Mr Austin, 49, said: “I’m a contracts manager and if a company was using multiple identities and changing names I wouldn’t go anywhere near it.

“I just noticed different names on the documents.When I looked in the archives the Royal Charter and Grant of Arms specifically gives the corporate seal to Wigan Borough Council, nobody else.

“My wife and I stood our ground and said we weren’t refusing to pay council tax, we just weren’t paying it to Wigan Council until they could prove who they were. I offered to pay to Wigan Borough Council but got no response.

“They’ve refused to sit down with me to provide evidence. People will say we’re trying to get out of paying but that’s not it. The money is set aside, I just want it to be paid to the right body.

“As citizens we have an obligation to check who we are giving money to. The council are saying they are not telling us and it’s not good enough.”

The local authority today strongly denied any impropriety or wrong-doing in the way the Austins’ case was handled.

Paul McKevitt, director of resources and contracts at Wigan Council, said: “The council has acted properly in all legal matters and in November 2014 this matter was heard in front of a district judge in the magistrates’ court regarding a request for a liability order to be granted for non-payment of council tax.

“Mr Austin was allowed to present the case in full before the judge, who then found in our favour. Since then Mr and Mrs Austin have had the right of appeal or review through the courts which they have not taken up.”

Mr McKevitt did not comment on the local authority’s legal status or trading entities.”