VTS URGENT -Change to evidence disclosure process with effect from 1 April 2024

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  • #286616
    Steadman
    Participant

    I assume others have received the below email on the 28.03.24 from the VTS.

    “For appeals received by the Tribunal after 1 April 2024, there is a change to the way you need to file and serve your case and evidence. This change affects all appeal types where the billing authority is the respondent party to the appeal.

    Upon acknowledgement of an appeal, you are directed to file with the Tribunal and serve upon the Appellant your full case. This must be done within four weeks of the notice of acknowledgement. You must file with the Tribunal by email and serve upon the Appellant by email or by post.

    If you don’t comply with the direction within the four weeks, your evidence and submissions may be excluded, and you may be prevented from submitting further evidence or submissions.”

    I am often able to resolve/allow an appeal by obtaining additional information, thus saving having to have a VTS Hearing. Effectively, now I will not have that window of opportunity and will have to create the submission almost immediately. I suppose I could write to the CTS claimant and give them, for example, 2 weeks to provide more information, then if they don’t reply then start the submission with 2 weeks left to go. What are others opinions on this? This seems likes a bonkers change to me?

    #286634
    pbirks
    Participant

    we thought it was a bonkers change too… esp as it often take them several months to give us a date once we have submitted.

    #286689
    nick dearnley
    Participant

    Bear in mind that before a VT appeal can be made the appellant must have given the council the chance to change the decision, so in all cases where there is an appeal any new info/reconsideration should already have been done. Of course, an appellant can provide something new when they appeal – we see that sometimes with HB appeals – but these should be the minority.

    As the LGSCO recommend four weeks from appeal to submission to FtT for HB cases I see this as just aligning with that, although the LGSCO recommendation doesn’t come with the sanction of exclusion from the process if it’s not met. There is the additional aspect that the VT seem to be committing to filtering appeals on the initial submission, which may give a trade-off in time spent.

    #286694
    Steadman
    Participant

    Hi Nick,

    That’s assuming the Grievance/Reconsideration has been dealt with in significant depth and detail. It is often very tempting for staff to not want to overturn their own original decision (even more so if it was someone else’s decision) and simply rubber stamp it. It takes a lot more time to ask for more information, more evidence, contact support provides, family, etc, than it does to just say “no new information/evidence provided, decision upheld”. Unfortunately, staff have performance targets so have a lot or pressure on them to make quick (but accurate) decisions. I very often find with a bit more digging and gathering of information, the majority of them can be allowed and it’s often simply a case of crossed wires, misunderstanding, vulnerable appellants, etc. who simply are confused by the system and/or have difficulty understanding what we need and how to get it to us promptly. This new 4 week time limit removes that opportunity for me as an Appeals Officer.

    #286695
    nick dearnley
    Participant

    I see. I get all the CTS reconsiderations as well as the appeals, and the actual council tax appeals too (liability issues etc), so I get to ask all those questions independently. There’s a two month time limit on reconsiderations, but I find it’s long enough in most cases. If all you get is the appeal I can see the problem though. I’d suggest a change of process but I guess it depends on resourcing.

    #286696
    Steadman
    Participant

    Hmmm, so I could get all the CTRS Grievances sent straight to me…interesting idea definitely worth considering. Thanks Nick.

    #286701
    nick dearnley
    Participant

    Same as HB revision requests. Honestly, I thought that was how everyone did it!

    Doing that means you can convincingly say it’s an independent (albeit internal) review, and you get to ask all the questions, hopefully leading to fewer appeals. Depends what that does to your workload, of course.

    #286702
    Steadman
    Participant

    So, if you do the HB Reconsiderations and CTRS Grievances, and then you also do any subsequent appeals if you refuse them, aren’t you simply looking at your own decision? We do it so that, when the Appeals Officer gets an Appeal, it is the very first time he/she has seen that decision. The Appeals Officer is completely removed from the Assessment process, so it is approached in a completely new and impartial way. Like yourself, I thought that was how everyone did it! It would be interesting to hear what everyone does?

    #286708
    mark beale
    Participant

    We are now receiving CTS appeals post April 2024.

    We are being asked for a full submission within four weeks even through we have received no written notice in accordance with S.16. and so no duly made appeal has been made. This shortens the time for the Billing Authority to consider their written notice/appeal, ask for FI and write the submission.

    So effectively the appeal to the VTS is the written notice to the Billing Authority in terms of how we have to deal with the appeal although this is not clear in the Consolidated Practice Note April 2024.

    I assume that the VTS will then read the full submission and accept the appeal as duly made in accordance with S.16 as the Billing Authority engages with the appellant for a very quick turn around and having had a full submission, why would they not then wish to decide on it.

    The online guidance and appeal form is still requiring a written notice to have been made.

    No details on the procedures for late appeals are clear.

    #286709
    nick dearnley
    Participant

    Mark – are you saying that you are getting appeal acknowledgements from the VT without having had a ‘revision request’ from the customer and without having looked at the case? So they are appealing directly to the VT without you having considered the grievance?

    If so, the VT should not be accepting the appeal – at least, that’s my understanding – as the process is clearly in two stages, i.e. initial grievance to LA with a decision to customer, and only followed by an appeal if the decision is unchanged or not reconsidered within two months (s16(7)).

    #286710
    nick dearnley
    Participant

    Steadman – yes, I am, but it means there are not so many surprises if it comes back on appeal, as I already know the case. Overall I change around 45% on reconsideration, but that’s usually for new information or just a simple mistake. I try to review independently and give a comprehensive explanation if I can’t change it. About 10% come back on appeal, but we get around 80% of those confirmed at tribunal, so I think our balance is fairly good.

    It’s inevitable that we end up checking our own work at some point – but having reconsiderations done outside the assessment team keeps them out of the performance targeting for those staff and allows more time for a thorough review. From a clmt’s point of view it shows at least a bit of independence in the review process, which may or may not contribute to the lower rate of return going to appeal.

    With council tax appeals, it’s the first I see of it, and it has been difficult to understand the legislative basis of some of the decision-making. That’s as much down to my lack of experience as anything else though (20+ years in HB, 20-ish months in CT); but I think if I dealt with all the CT disputes I’d have a better handle on it – I may need to be careful what I wish for!

    #286715
    mark beale
    Participant

    I have contacted them about this issue but their stance is that:

    ‘Once an appeal has been received it is usually the case that a decision has been made in accordance with s.16 or that the BA have failed to issue a decision within the requisite two-month period’. Note usually.

    If the BA does not provide any evidence in respect of the substantive issue and should the appeal not be struck out then we would be required to seek a variation to the standard directions.

    Based on this they advise that we should provide a submission within the 4 week timescale ~ even in the absence of a written notice.

    Clarification on late appeals has also been sought.

    #286716
    nick dearnley
    Participant

    Hmmmm…’usually’….

    My impression of the new directions was that the initial submission would be used by the VT to decide whether the issue should proceed to hearing. There’s nothing in the new directions, as far as I can see, that circumvents the requirement for the initial grievance to be lodged with the LA. That said, I’ve just re-read the Practice Statement and it is a bit confusing.

    If you’ve not had a s16 grievance and therefore not responded to it, the only thing I can suggest is a shortened submission along the lines of the appeal being not duly made, including a request to vary the directions requiring a full submission on the grounds that you’ve not had the opportunity to reconsider the decision because there was no initial s16 grievance.

    #286717
    mark beale
    Participant

    Feedback or should I say clarification is that if the LA believes that s.16 has not been satisfied we can e-mail the VTS within the 4 weeks (with supporting documents) but if VTS accept the appeal anyway then we only have the 4 weeks.

    I get the impression this has been brought in to answer those LA’s that in their decision letters advised customers straight away that they could appeal to the VTS. Our authority has never done that and advises about a notice being required but now we are caught up in the VTS solution.

    I agree with you on the shortened submission but their consolidated practice April 2024 makes it obvious that after the 4 weeks no further evidence or submission other than a re-buttal will be accepted. I guess I await the next one and see what I can send to say no S.16 Notice received and how quickly and what response I get.

    Late Appeals I missed was in PS1 so looks like the procedures remain the same.

    #286726
    nick dearnley
    Participant

    Hopefully no-one is telling customers to appeal direct to the VT when they make the initial decision! We’ve never done that and always set out that the initial challenge has to come to us.

    Practically, how many cases will you get where the VT notify an appeal but there has been no s16 grievance/reconsideration? I think that’s the thing. In those few occasions I think you’re right, an email to the VT explaining no grievance has been received and that should be the end of it. We use an electronic document system, so it should be easy to show.

    I have a hearing on 22 May so I may pick the Clerk’s brain about it.

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