Ambrose v Nottingham City Council [2004], Before district Judge Morris Cooper sitting as magistrate at Nottingham Magistrates' Court, October 2004

 

A liability order was made against Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose for unpaid council tax. In September 2004 a bailiff employed by Rossendales Ltd attended their home to levy distraint. The detailed conduct of that levy, and the practice of levying operated by the company, were the subject of the case.

Rossendales operated a two tier levy system. The first tier was a "first call bailiff" making contact. He operated alone in a car and his role was to assess the situation, conduct a levy and prepare and leave behind the necessary documentation (inventory, walking-possession agreement and application to pay by installments and so on).

The company policy was to try to include at least 7 items on the inventory, supported by a pre-printed claim to "all other goods on the premises unless exempt or specially exempt by statute."

The second tier of the system was the "van bailiff" who actually removed goods for sale. Where walking-possession was agreed, removal only occurred if payments were not made.

The company always sought to agree walking-possession where some goods of value were available. Mrs. Ambrose agreed to pay £3Opm subject to walking-possession. However, she felt that a levy should not have been made at all because she did not have sufficient goods to cover the outstanding council tax, let alone additional charges on top. She sought advice from a local law centre and as a result took court proceedings.

Mrs. Ambrose issued a complaint to the magistrates' court under regulation 46 of the Council Tax (Administration & Enforcement) Regulations 1992 on the basis that the levy had been irregular. Her argument was that:

1. Exempt goods and third party goods were included in the levy

2. The bailiff had failed to conduct an adequate inspection of the premises to satisfy himself that only a sufficient quantity of goods was being seized. He was invited to do this in order to impress upon him the absence of seizable goods on the premises, but declined to do so as it was not company policy for the first call bailiff to undertake such an inspection; and,

3. The notice of distress was too vague to inform Mrs. Ambrose, or other bailiffs who might visit, what had or had not been levied.

The Magistrate ordered the distress is irregular and the goods be released to Mrs. Ambrose.