The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council deducted the amounts allowed by the law from Mr B’s wages after he failed to pay his Council Tax. There is no evidence of fault and the complaint is not upheld.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs B, complains the attachment of earnings order made against her husband for Council tax was too high and caused financial hardship.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I read the papers submitted by Mrs B and discussed the complaint with her.
- I considered the Council’s comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided.
- I gave the Council and Mrs B the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- Mr and Mrs B were in arrears for their Council Tax for several years.
- In March 2016 the Council wrote to them to say it was willing to recall the debts from recovery agents if Mr and Mrs B paid £300 per month towards the arrears from April 2016. This payment consisted of £96 towards the arrears, with the rest being the payment for the current years Council tax (2016/2017).
- Mr and Mrs B did not make the £300 payments.
- The Council wrote to Mr B’s employer on 23 June 2016 with two attachment of earnings orders. The first was from a liability order made in 2013 for £1643. The second was for a liability order made in 2015 for £1327.
- In October 2016 the attachment order relating to the 2015 debt finished as the arrears had been paid. The Council sent a third attachment order from a liability order made in 2016 for £2522 to Mr B’s employer. The Council said the total deductions should not exceed £584.
- Mrs B complained the amount the Council deducted (£584) from Mr B’s wages was too much. The Council said it could not change the amount in December 2016.
- The Council then agreed to reduce the amount being deducted to £300 per month, but Mr B’s employer could not alter the amount until the January 2017 payment.
- The Council tax legislation set outs the amount the Council can get through a deductions from earnings. The only discretions the council has are to make the order, not make the order, or stop an existing order. The payments are collected by the employer. Once an order is paid the council must write and tell the employer. The legislation says for earnings in excess of £1000 a month that 17% can be deducted in respect of the first £1000 and 50% in respect of the remainder. Up to two attachment of earnings orders can be served on a person at one time.
- Mr B’s salary was over £1000 per month. I have looked at his salary and the £584 deducted by the Council per month was under the amount allowed by the legislation.
- Mr and Mrs B did not pay the instalments proposed by the Council in March 2016. So, the Council set up an attachment of earnings. The amount taken from Mr B’s wages is in line with the legislation so I can find no evidence of fault by the Council.
- The Council has reduced the amount taken from Mr B’s wages as a gesture of goodwill. This does not mean it was wrong to take the higher amount as the £584 deduction was allowed by the law. In fact, I can find nothing in the law that gives the Council the discretion to reduce the payments from the set percentages in the legislation.
- I have completed my investigation as I have found no evidence of fault by the Council. This complaint is not upheld.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman