I was going to talk about the LOCUS Magazine Recommended Reading List for 2006, because Scar Night made it into the debut novel category. And I was also going to talk about the University of Strathclyde English Department, who were kind enough to ask me through to speak to their students last Monday. But I'm not going to talk about either of those things. I'm going to talk about the aggressive, vampiric and nonsensical behaviour of South Lanarkshire Council and Glasgow-based debt collectors Buchanan, Clark and Wells instead.Yes, it's a rant.
Buchanan Clark and Wells, while acknowledging that I have paid my council tax in full, are now threatening to "arrest monies" in my bank account because I haven't paid my council tax.
Writers live off advances. Advances are paid on delivery of a manuscript, hardback publication, mass market paperback publication, and so on; dates which don't necessarily fit in with South Lanarkshire Council's calendar. So I didn't have £1110 sitting around in early July last year to pay my 2006/07 council tax bill in advance. I certainly didn't see that I should pay it, even if they do prefer to collect monies up front because of the extra interest they earn.
I had explained to them that I'd been skint before July. I'd just shelled out an eye-watering deposit to buy a flat, and I was late with my council tax payments, but I was expecting an advance in a few weeks. The bastards couldn't care less. They asked the Sheriff Officers to issue a summary warrant -- at a cost to me of £111.
They tell me the £111 is council tax and it is not council tax. It doesn't matter that I paid off my council tax ages ago and that both the South Lanarkshire Council and the debt collectors acknowledge that I've paid it off, I still owe them £111 in council tax arrears.
Sheesh. Red tape.
As the woman from BCW said (actually, she didn't say it, she snarled it):
"We can call it whatever we want, you owe us, and we'll get it off you."
That surprised me. "So, you could say the £111 is for an unpaid electricity bill, it doesn't matter?"
Apparently so. They could call it "magic snow unicorn tax." They could send you a letter like this:
MAGIC SNOW UNICORN TAX OUTSTANDING BALANCE: £111
We note that, despite previous correspondence, your magic snow unicorn tax remains outstanding. Accordingly, our clients, South Lanarkshire Council, have instructed us to commence proceedings at arrest monies you have in a Bank or Building Society account.
Debt collection has become so slapdash. All the letters are addressed to me, and to someone else, a person whose name is similar to my partner's name, but is clearly not. So how do I know if a summary warrant was actually granted? BCW refuse to give me the name or number of the Sheriff Officers who granted it. And South Lanarkshire Council refuse to send me a bill with a breakdown of the council tax charges.
"We don't do that," they told me.
"But you do," I said. "You sent me one last year. The one that says Council Tax breakdown of charges. X for water, Y for sewerage. You know, that bill which you said I've paid and I haven't paid?"
"Our computer system is down."
"When will it be up again?"
"In a week or so."
"Glad you told me," I said. "I'll phone back then to pay my arrears."
"Oh, but that part of the system is working."
Typical. The computer system is down and it isn't down. Red tape nicely wraps up any paradox.
I'm going to pay the arrears, of course. It annoys me, and I don't think it's fair, but I don't have a choice. Still, I don't have to choose to live in South Lanarkshire either, home of the council who really don't give damn. Last year, they threatened a friend of mine for not paying his council tax, even though they hadn't send him a bill yet."I don't know how much to pay," he told them (quite reasonably it seems to me). "Because you haven't worked it out yet."
"That doesn't matter," they replied. "You need to pay it."
Red tape, huh?
Welcome to South Lanarkshire. Anyone want to buy a flat?