Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inefficient collections

If you live in the UK and have ever failed to pay your council tax, a parking ticket or other fine on time, the chances are your debt may have been handed over to a company called Equita Certified Bailiffs.

I hope anyone who works for a local authority or any other company who use these shower of sharks reads this and considers carefully whether their services are actually value for money, My experience with Equita suggests that they are neither efficient or ethical in their business practices. Local authorities who should be looking to get the best service for taxpayers' money if it is necessary to collect overdue council tax should be looking elsewhere.

Last month I contacted Equita to try and get from them a written statement of how much council tax I owed. Havant Borough Council had turned over collection to them after just ONE missed month back in May, and flatly refused to deal with me direct thereafter. They could have saved themselves a lot of money. I hate to think how much they are being charged by Equita per successful collection.

Equita did not answer my letter sent to them in the middle of December. I tried writing again, faxing and phoning all to no effect. I was left on the end of a phone line for 25 minutes then cut off, put through to an extension that was never answered and could, for all I know be a phone in an empty office or a line with no phone on it at all.

I should mention that Equita's main publicly available phone line as printed on their correspondence is an 0870 premium rate number. BT customers are now enjoying free 0870 calls. Virgin Media, who supply my landline do not offer that and the charges per minute are considerably higher than the geographic rate. The website Saynoto870 offers consumers alternative numbers for thousands of companies who scam their customers this way.

At the beginning of last week, a recorded message from Equita when I entered my reference number said my case had been passed to a local collector in my area and gave a mobile phone number. On my first attempt he said that they hadn't yet provided him with my file. I called several more times and got his voicemail or no answer at all. I texted and did not get a reply.

Finally this morning he rang me and I let him have both barrels about Equita's misdemeanours. I was rather unfair because it turns out that he didn't get the file till late last week so didn't know what was going on. As you might guess, NONE of the correspondence sent to Equita over the past month was in the file when it arrived, but it is now!

We were able to agree payment of the remainder of my council tax over the phone and called round this afternoon to collect cheques for the next couple of months and copies of the missing letters, including those sent to me, again not on the file. He was very kind and sympathetic about my current financial problems and depression and wished me well.

He also agreed that Equita's efficiency in the way they dealt with him and members of the public left a lot to be desired. If you get caught in between Equita and some other organisation, I suggest you go straight to your local trading standards office and make a complaint about Equita and whoever else has farmed out their debts to them.

I am considering my next move, because I'm not happy that my local council is using them to collect late tax. They might well do better to do the job themselves and might save some people in my area a lot of stress into the bargain. I am now able to go and make a benefit claim for my council tax because I now know what I owe. If I'd known that a month ago, that issue might also have been sorted out and I would have been saved some sleepless nights and worry.