Frugal blog: Surprise bill

After a buzzing Monday, one of those where loads of little jobs get done, Tuesday (today) has been a day of starting fast and steadily getting more tired, something I do a lot these days. I run out of energy much quicker, tiredness plays a part, until eventually I land home at around 5pm and I'm zonked.

I've tried eating more fruit and veg through the day, tried extra couple of hours of kip, but nothing really improves.

The focus' washer pump has gone, in days gone by it would lead to a trip to the scrappers and a couple of quid, a quick lift of the bonnet and a simple replace job, connect the pipes up and away we go again, good as new.
In todays' "easier" world, it will now involve a ten quid outlay, two day wait for the shop to get it in and, I'm reliably informed from various ford focus forums, jacking the car up, removing the passenger side wheel, removing the wheel arch cover, then the windscreen water bottle. I'm told that the pump is located underneath this and can be changed via a bolt running through the top of the little water tank.
"Easier world" car work results in a 2 hour fiddly job, whereas a previous world job, was 15 minutes of messing with little that could go wrong.
Pound to a penny, when I remove the wheel arch cover, one of the screw heads will ping off or I'll need a special tool, etc.

There's nowt on the box again tonight, so I'll try and get an early night after reading a few pages of my latest book, "Working for victory" which is a diary of two women during the second world war, working in a tool makers factory.
54 hours per week they did on various shifts, to help the war effort, learning a new trade and having only one week per year off and one day off a week. Todays world wouldn't be able to stomach the workload, conditions or lack of holidays, that includes me.

The dog has started chewing my cheapo picket fence panels, put up in a useless attempt to stop her sitting in my strawberry beds!
On the subject of strawberry plants, could not believe my eyes when I saw B and Q (that bastion of do-it-yourself knowledge... not) were selling strawberry plants for £6 each!
If you want to save yourself some cash, speak to an allotment owner or gardener, they'll give you some for free. Starwberry plants should be moved in your garden beds every three years, you can also thin them out once they've flowered and they will sprout new plants out, once established, cut the sprouting stem off from the baby plant, hey presto, more strawberry plants.

Frugal blog: A typical Sunday

A slow start, finally got a decent nights' kip.
Managed to fix a new copper tap on to the outside water tank (to collect rainwater for the garden) using the old one I'd replaced on our out door tap front, the tank is an old loft water/central heating tank we had taken out when the new boiler was fitted.
I can add comfy leaves again to the water in there, but with no rain for over a week now, levels were running low due to watering in the strawberries everyday. (They are in rain guttering fixed to to the fence, part of my upward growing effort due to lack of space and a dog that eats everything, when it's at ground level.)

The dog hasn't yet eaten the fruit trees I planted last year at corner points in the garden (to take water out of the lawn and killed most of the clover/weeds) it did eat them last year, the stumps are sprouting leaves again.

Pressure cooker threw up a top tea of steak, onions and gravy, with buttered mash and carrots, life saver. H was able to sun herself in the garden for a bit before sitting with Mum tonight.
Only one more week until I have to get the compost/manure for the no dig front garden, lifting the old carpet I put down is going to be a job and a half, but it will be worth it if we get some veg out of it.
Enjoying a quiet night, with no hassles now sprog2 is in bed, flat out, must be doing something right...

Protect your data online - Tips

Our personal information is being gathered at an alarming pace, in everything that we do, everyday.
Protections exist, we are always told, regulations prevent businesses and their third party businesses are there to "Hold business to account," a whole host of small print and exclusions, buried in reams of "Terms and conditions" can be read on their websites.

I don't care about any of it, one jot. The only person whom is going to protect my information, is me!

Here are some tips for you, that I use. (Right or wrong, misguided or not):


  • Never wish anyone a happy birthday.
    I value all my friends/family's privacy, why would I pass their date of birth on to a private company and it's third party associates?
    My timeline is full of children's birthdays... all being collected by the platform business. Why would I protect my own date of birth, then hand over the date of birth for my children?
    It's a process, so that in the future the platform won't need to go hunting for it, they already have it on file. (Besides which, children are not permitted to have facebook accounts, yet their personal information is being gathered from an early age, via their family's accounts.)
  • Never reply to a "Do you remember..." post.
    Have you seen the switching website business adverts, that show Skeletor and He-Man dancing, etc?
    They are appealing to a demographic, an age group born at a certain time, falling in an age bracket.
    Same applies with posts.
    I like/comment on them, puts me in a demographic, along with those in my friends list.
  • Tagging in photos.
    No thanks. Facial recognition is being used by most businesses nowadays, via their "security" cameras in branches.
    Greggs uses it, yes Greggs!
    I went in with sprog2 to pick up my Mum a doughnut, looked up at the security screen and red squares were around both of our faces. Asked the staff to turn it off, they didn't have a clue, "I just serve at the counter!"
  • Profile pictures - No.
    Big NO from me.
  • Open a new browser before logging in to any other website.
    As I move from bookface, to another website, many websites track which website you go to. Bookface goes a bit further and I have proof!
    If I open a web browser and look at my timeline on bookface, then click on my address bar and say, visit the twotty website, you'd think that would be it?
    All bookface would see is the website that I've gone to right? Wrong!
    A few times now, I've had my speakers on in the background as I surf the web, I've gone from bookface to twotty, yet whilst browsing twotty, the ping noise (of a new post to my timeline on bookface) has sounded.
    I go back to bookface and there is indeed a new post to my timeline!
    How could this be? I'm not logged in to bookface, I'm not on their webpages, etc.
    Yet whilst browsing their so-called rival, twotty, I still get their new post ping?
    I asked both twotty and bookface why this is the case... guess what?
    None of them will ever reply.
    So now, I always close bookface in the browser and open a new browser window before visiting another website.
    (Frugalways does not track which websites you come from/go to, if you honour us with your time and website visit. I am neither interested nor want to know your choice of browsing)


We've all had it happen to us, "For data protection can you confirm your date of birth?"
Unless it's a government department (ie. tax office) or a NHS department, not a single business has a right to ask my date of birth, hold my date of birth on file, etc.

When asked where the business obtained my date of birth from, not one single business can provide me with a straight and open answer as to why they have it on file.
It is none of their business!


Have a smart TV?
NEVER connect it to your internet. It can collect as much information about my household as it wants, but I will never let it publish that information, via my own i.p. address, back to the business/manufacturer.
There's a reason that none smart TVs will not play certain file types via their almost useless USB sockets. So you buy a smart TV!
The smart TV then claims you can view tubeyou, filxnet, etc, via your equipment, as well as playing basic MP4 files (for music, TV and videos) via the USB sockets.
Smart TVs also collect your data.
They can listen in on conversations, using algorythms, then target advertisements (so they say) to your needs (how considerate of them).
What data are they sending back to businesses/manufacturers?
Numerous examples of smart TVs having their "reporting back" function being turned off, only to discover (via their internet connection scans) that it continues to send back information, therefore deceiving the user into believing that they have control over the smart TV, when in fact, they do not.
Many of the "web browser" features listed with TVs are not actually full browsers at all.
I tested a sony blueray player's claims and found that the browser on the blueray play returns different (and fewer) results on internet searches, than my borwser on my PC.

There's a reason why business/manufacturers don't like people using PCs and prefer people to buy smart devices... PCs can be scanned to check for things, most smart devices cannot. (Not just for the obvious profits from selling and updating smart devices either!)
Exactly the same applies to smartphones, smart meters, smart appliances, etc.


It has become almost unavoidable (even by a saddo like me) to avoid all use of supermarkets.

These businesses are perhaps the biggest users of our personal data out of all of them.
One such supermarket, runs an "income tracker" and quotes the findings of it to the industry (and which other businesses I wonder?).
I have asked this supermarket a few times, where exactly do they obtain the data for their "income tracker" to report each month?
They have yet to provide a single answer to any of my questions.

  • Do supermarkets have some access to our bank accounts when a customer pays by debit card?
  • Are supermarkets collecting our data when we use their cash machines to withdraw money? (Even more apparent lately, with the news reports of many cash machines to close down)
  • Are supermarkets collaborating with credit card companies to obtain our data?
  • Or are supermarkets using algorthyms that are wildly off and simply guessing/pigeon holing most of our data, then selling it on for profit? (Read misleading).

Whatever the methods used, whenever I'm forced to use a supermarket, I pay by cash. I refuse to contribute to supermarket's gaining any information, as regards which company I bank with, account details, etc.
I even mix up the times I visit, sometimes early doors, sometimes late at night, sometimes not for weeks at a time.

I will be adding to this post as I come across more instances of big data collection, etc.
Are there any instances of big data collection that you've come across that I have not mentioned?

Car insurance companies delaying claims for profit

Insurance companies are deliberately delaying no-fault claims to increase profits.

When you have a bump and the third party do not reply, the renewal process takes any "outstanding" claims as justification to increase premiums.

Our car was parked up in a car park.
A huge wagon, working on filling in holes for united utilities drove down the narrow car park to fill in a hole.
So big was it, it was unable to drive back out, so had to reverse.
As it did so, it swung around the corner it had come in through and hit our car and drove off without stopping.

In the process, writing our car off.

I obtained the united utilities job number/reference number and reported it to them and our insurance company, Axa.

A simple job for the insurance company axa, contact united utilities, quote job/reference number, obtain 3rd party details of wagon working on behalf of united utilities.

It's been over a year and a half and still axa have not been able to obtain this information (so they tell us).

Axa's so called legal team have asked four times over the past 18 months for us to provide details, we have, they say nothing for months then ask the same questions again.
We have gone so far as to provide points of contact at united utilities for axa - still no progress.
We have provided a copy of the united utilities job sheet four times - still no progress.
The legal advisor "dealing" with the case has been removed and a new advisor put in place - still no progress.

Axa's legal team (DAC Beachcroft) then sent us an email telling us they were taking united utilities to court, forms to sign would be sent out in the post, that was over a month ago, we are still waiting for them.
We have emailed axa's legal advisors for the forms, again no reply, nothing has been sent out.

Delay, ignorance, lack of effort, failures to adhere to basic standards and failure to respond to their own timescales and correspondence.
Why have our insurance company axa took so little action?

The answer lies with the renewal process.
We pay monthly for our car insurance, when renewal comes up, the case is still outstanding, so is used to remove 14 years no claims bonus and "deem you a risk" - which in basic English means, the monthly insurance premiums triple in price.
As the saying goes, follow the money!

The customer is left hanging, paying out more money, the insurance company (axa in this case) makes more profit, the customer loses their no claims bonus so can't go elsewhere.

We recently had another no fault claim, when a driver pulled out on us, axa emailed to say "we have still not had any response from Esure (the other insurance company)" and so the familiar lack of action begins all over again, just in time for our next insurance renewal...

Rossendale Borough Council paying for services out of court costs!


Rossendale council are now claiming the court costs for the liability order, are "Council tax arrears" presumably so they can use the council tax arrears set up to collect them.
Rossendale council have still to provide a judgement letter from the court (Bizarre as their court costs are from the procedure, yet they are unable to produce documentation provided by the court as standard practise)
Rossendale council are now claiming they are legally entitled to know all our incomings and outgoings, a fact that the court officer and magistrate stopped them from doing in court when the council's officer attempted to extract information during the case hearing.
Are Rossendale council selling on information?
Why is it essential for Rossendale council to know financial history of over 6000 liability order cases?

We now know that information put on the general costs sheet by Rossendale council and presented to the court in our case, as justification for charging £95 per case for liability order costs, is not only over a year out of date, including services also paid for out of council tax (double accounting), but are also false.
Rossendale council did the same to another resident, whom is on disability benefit. In this other case, the resident offered to visit the council offices the very next day and clear the entire balance outstanding, in cash.
Rossendale council refused the resident's offer, citing "we are unable to accept cash payments" as the reason for their refusal to accept.
Rossendale council's liability order overall costs sheet, (a year out of date and presented to the court as factually accurate) clearly states that one of their costs are for "processing cash payments".
We also now know that the resident in question had their liability court costs wiped off.

We remain in the position whereby the court granted Rossendale council a liability order for a council tax balance of zero, despite being unable to justify a single part of the £95 costs they were claiming.
Despite the council tax administration laws/regulations being applicable to liability to pay an amount outstanding, and NOT the collection process (of which we owe £0, zero, nothing) the magistrate and court (which has failed to provide the written judement that it passed) ignored all representations by us.
Clearly, there is a prior agreement with the council in place, which is an abuse of the court process, in our view.

Original post:

Council tax liability orders are being enforced on late/non council tax payers every year, all over England. Rossendale Borough Council (RBC), estimate to issue 6072 summons in 2016/2017 alone.

Each liability order summons, comes with a £95 court costs charge.
If all these charges are collected, this will result in a total amount of £576,840 being paid to Rossendale Borough Council.

So how are these court costs arrived at?

RBC block book the magistrates' court in Burnley and they pass through as many as they can each block booking day.
To prove their costs are legitimate, the council present the Clerk of Justice with a run down of the running costs for recovery of unpaid council tax.

Here's the breakdown of costs they presented to Burnley magistrates' court;

Staffing costs:

- System administration costs £23,741
- Recovery section £215,082
- Billing and benefits teams £49,652
- Contact centre costs £82,425
- Customer services £26,729
- Accountancy and service assurance team £7,648

System costs:

- Northgate licensing and maintenance £67,567
- System administration costs £3,960
- Telephone system £4,567
- Anite system £3,000

Printing and postage costs:

- Stationary costs £84,825
- Production of pre-summons reports, complaint reports and liability order reports £23,741

Magistrates court costs:

- Administration and payment of invoices £435
- Court fees (based on estimated 6072 cases) £18,216

Miscellaneous costs:

- Cash receipting payments £415

Total recovery costs: £612,010
Esimated summons number based on previous years: 6072
Total per case: £100

Our council tax for the year 2016/17 was paid in full by February 2017.
I appeared in court to defend against the £95 court costs charge, here's what happened.

Rossendale borough council's representative, admitted under oath the following to the magistrate;

* The cost of my liability order going through the magistrates court was just £3.

* Regulation of 34 of the Council Tax (Administration & Enforcement) Regulations 1992) allows for costs to be charged (if reasonably incurred by the applicant in obtaining THE order). The council submitted this as a note with their list of costs on application.
RBC's officer admitted that the costs list presented to the court represented the council's costs for all of their recovery of council tax (paid on time/late/non payment) - the legislation the court uses, permits only costs to be awarded in "Obtaining the order" and not for the entire recovery process or any individual part of it.

* RBC's officer admitted that the council did not have a breakdown of costs for my case to present to the court. Therefore RBC could not prove that "costs were reasonable and genuine" as they must do, to furnish the magistrate with the facts to discharge their duty.

* The costs list submitted by the council, were an audit for the financial year 2015/16, over a year out of date. The officer did not know of any new procedures or reduced costs that had been made between the time the audit was done and the present day.
This shows that the council's costs list could not be taken by the magistrates to be accurate?

* RBC's officer accepted under oath, that in our case, we had not used several of the departments listed on the costs list, at any point in time over the last financial year.

* RBC's officer admitted under oath, that those department and systems being claimed for on the council's court costs sheet, were in fact not just for the collection of all (let alone recovery from late/non payers) of council tax in a financial year, but also for collection of business rates, rents, non domestic rates, etc.

* RBC's officer admitted that there was "double accounting" in the council's court costs submitted to the magistrate, as every council tax payer was paying for the council's departments/call centres/systems/maintenance contracts/licenses, etc. at the same time as the council were claiming all of the estimated 6072 liability order applications incurring court costs through the magistrates court, were legitimately being claimed for.

* RBC's officer admitted that the council's court costs claim submitted for costs under regulation 34(7) where council tax and costs were outstanding, did not apply in my case, as all council tax had been paid before the court date, so regulation 34(8) was applicable.

* RBC's officer admitted under oath that there were some of the estimated 6072 cases being charged court costs by the council, that have/would have the court costs waived. The officer couldn't instruct the court regarding how many of these

* RBC's officer admitted under oath, that court costs were waived for some cases where there were amounts owed for council tax, where the accounts fell under those people with "low incomes" but he could not tell the court how many cases this would be applicable to.

* RBC's officer had put in writing and admitted under oath, that part of the court costs were set to penalise late/non payers of council tax, to deter people from late/non payment of council tax.
- The magistrate did not want to see this written evidence (from RBC's recovery officer)
- I quoted the case of judicial review (therefore legal precedent), R v Highgate Justices 1954, whereby it was ruled that "Court costs should not exceed the proper costs incurred and should not be a penalty"

* RBC's officer did not know how many liability orders were charged the £95 costs by the council, where the costs were not challenged by the individual account holder and no review was presented before the court, as listed in the council's court costs submittance to the court.

The magistrates' court secretary, quoted from a book of laws, along with the footnotes for guidance, to be used in this case.
Both RBC's officer and myself were sent out of court to study these prior to making representations before the judge.
In these footnotes, the case of R (on the application of the Reverend Nicholson) v Tottenham Magistrates [2015] and the findings and observations of Judge Andrews J are summarised for guidance for the court;

"For the court to be satisfied that the costs were reasonably incurred, it is insufficient for the court to rely on general and vague assertions with no supporting particulars. The focus must not be on whether the costs claimed was a reasonable amount, but whether those costs were reasonably incurred obtaining the liability order.

It will be impermissible to include in the costs claimed, to the overall administration of council tax in the area concerned."

The footnotes also quote from the case of (R v Bristol City Magistrates Court, ex p Willsman (1991))

"Regulation 34(7) [which RBC were claiming costs for] means that the court must be satisfied;
(i) The Local Authority has actually incurred those costs;
(ii) that the costs in question were incurred in obtaining the liability order;

"Local Authorities are reminded that they are only permitted to charge reasonable costs for the court summons and liability order.
In the interests of transparency, Local Authorities should be able to provide a breakdown, on request, showing how these costs are calculated.
The court may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority."

After all the admissions under oath by Rossendale Borough Council's officer, I hoped the magistrate would take them into account. They did not.

In summing up, the Judge informed me that the court's hands were tied on this issue, there was little room for manouvre for them.
We all have a responsibility to pay our council tax and on time, while we sympathise with your case, I find in favour of the claimant.

So after completely discrediting the council's costs argument, the lack of factual basis for their submissions and quoting legal precedent, about court costs not to be used as a penalty, the Judge preferred instead to ignore all that and agree with RBC's officer that "we haven't raised court cost levels for four years and it would be too expensive to produce and individual case breakdown for the court"
(Even though they claimed in their costs submission that part of the court costs they were claiming was for liability order reports and case by case reviews to present before the court!)

Where do I go from here?
I have no idea.
It cannot be right that court costs being claimed by Rossendale Borough Council are paying for departments/systems/administration for not only council tax, but rents, non domestic rates, etc. The same departments that are also paid for from the council's normal budget funded via everyones' council tax bills.

Regulation 34 (and all paragraphs thereof) at no point state that a council is allowed to claim costs for "recovery" of late/non paid council tax, it does however state that costs must reflect the cost of obtaining THE liability order, not for all of the 6072 estimated to be needed in a given year.

The Magistrates court system is there to give a fair hearing to everybody.
It should not take a judicial review and thousands of pounds in costs to get a fair hearing.

This is happening all over England, what are your councillors, MPs doing about it?