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South Holland District Council (19 018 693)

Category : Benefits and tax > Council tax support

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 06 Oct 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X says the Council has failed to consider her ask for a review of its decision not to backdate Council Tax Support to January 2019. The Ombudsman has found fault with the Council’s actions because it has not considered Mrs X’s review request or provided her with details of how to appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. Therefore, he recommended the Council consider her review request, pay her £150 in recognition of the distress and time and trouble and caused to her in pursuing this matter and apologise. The Council agreed.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I shall call Mrs X, says the Council has failed to consider her appeal against its decision not to backdate Council Tax Support to January 2019. Mrs X says the Council should do so as she applied in January 2019 and was entitled to support.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a tribunal. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
  2. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of my investigation I discussed the complaint with Mrs X and considered evidence she provided. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its response and information it provided. I set out my initial thoughts on the complaint in a draft decision statement and invited Mrs X and the Council to comment.

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What I found

  1. This document details how the Council will determine requests for Council Tax Support. It says it can backdate claims by a maximum of one month from the date the claim is received.

Key events

  1. Mrs X applied for Council Tax Support (CTS) on 17 January 2019. The form was hand delivered to the Council’s offices, but no receipt was taken. The Council refutes the form was received in January and says it has no record of receiving it until 27 June 2019.
  2. The form detailed why Mrs X considered she was entitled to CTS and asked for her claim to be backdated to 21 November 2018.
  3. The Council wrote to Mrs X on 9 July 2019. It said that it would pay Mrs X CTS but that it could not backdate her claim to 21 November 2018 as there was no good reason why Mrs X had not submitted her claim earlier. The Council says the form was received on 27 June 2019.
  4. Mrs X wrote to the Council on 10 July asking it to reconsider its decision as she had submitted her claim form on time and it was not her fault the Council had taken so long to consider it.
  5. The Council responded to Mrs X on 6 September. It said it would backdate her CTS claim to 3 June but it could not backdate it any further. This is because it can only backdate a claim by a maximum of one month from the date the claim is received, which it maintains was the 27 June. As the Council had altered its original decision it said this decision constituted a new decision with new review rights.
  6. The letter told Mrs X that if she disagreed with the decision then she should write to the Council explaining why. It would then consider the challenge and send a decision within two months. If Mrs X still disagreed after the challenge, then it would provide her with details of an independent body she could appeal to.
  7. On 11 September Mrs X emailed the Council giving the Council’s benefits department permission to share information with its wellbeing team.
  8. Mrs X’s husband, Mr X, emailed the Council on 19 September saying they were not happy with the Council’s decision on their CTS claim. It explained Mrs X’s CTS form was handed into reception on 17 January and so the Council should backdate their claim as they are entitled to CTS for this period.
  9. The Council did not reply to their letter.
  10. Mrs X emailed the Council again on 9 December asking for their response to her request for a review.
  11. The Council did not reply.
  12. On 1 January 2020 Mrs X emailed the Council again saying that she would be bringing the matter to the Ombudsman if a response to her request was not forthcoming.
  13. In response to my enquiries the Council confirmed that it did not respond to Mrs X’s request for a view of its decision of 6 September 2019. It said a response was not necessary because it raised the same issues as those in Mrs X’s appeal of 10 July. It says that Mrs X was advised of her appeal rights regarding its decision of 6 September.

Analysis

  1. The Council told Mrs X that its decision of 6 September constituted a new decision with fresh review rights. Its letter told her that if she wanted to challenge the Council’s decision she should do so in writing, and it would reply within two months. Mrs X did so in a communication of 19 September. The Council has not responded or considered her review request. This is fault. It should have acted in line with the details it provided to Mrs X.
  2. The Council’s justification is that Mrs X did not raise any new matters in her review request of 19 September. It therefore chose not to respond, and Mrs X has not received any response to her request or her subsequent emails. This is fault. If the Council considered the reasons given by Mrs X did not warrant further consideration it should have told her. It cannot simply ignore her request. It should at the very least have told it did not consider her reasons were grounds to review its decision.
  3. Furthermore, by not responding to Mrs X’s review request it did not notify her that she could now take her challenge to its decision to the Valuation Tribunal, the independent body referred to in the Council’s letter of 6 September. The letter tells Mrs X that she can only take this step when once it has decided her review request and it would provide her with details at that point. It is therefore my view that by ignoring Mrs X’s review request the Council has effectively denied Mrs X her right to appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. This is fault by the Council.
  4. As a result of the fault I have identified Mrs X claim for CTS remains unresolved. This has understandably caused her and her husband distress and uncertainty.

Agreed action

  1. I recommended the Council considered Mrs X’s review request within the next fortnight. It should write to Mrs X telling her of the outcome and providing her with the details of how to appeal its decision to the Valuation Tribunal. I consider this remedy will put Mrs X in the position she would have been had the fault I identified not occurred. The Valuation Tribunal is the body set up by Parliament to consider disputes about council tax matters including whether a local authority has determined claims for CTS properly. For this reason, I think that it is appropriate for Mrs X to put her concerns to the Valuation Tribunal for determination. The Council agreed.
  2. I also recognised the delay caused by the Council’s failure to address Mrs X’s review request has caused her and her husband distress and time and trouble in pursuing this matter. In recognition of this I recommended it write her a letter of apology and pay her £150.The Council agreed. It should make payment within the next four weeks.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation of this matter as the Council has agreed to my recommendations which address the injustice caused to Mrs X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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