Cannock Chase District Council (17 010 896)

Category : Benefits and tax > Council tax

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 16 Nov 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about a court summons for council tax arrears. This is because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr X, complains that the Council served a summons for council tax arrears and then withdrew it. He says this caused stress and distress. He says the Council acted maliciously.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I read the complaint and the Council’s responses. I considered comments Mr X made in response to a draft of this decision.

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What I found

  1. The law says people must pay their council tax as stated on the bill. If people pay late on more than two occasions they lose the right to pay by instalments. The Council can then demand that they pay the full amount which is due for the rest of the year. If they do not pay the Council can serve a summons and ask the magistrates for a liability order. A liability order is a court order confirming the person must pay the council tax and costs.
  2. If someone has Council tax arrears, and does not pay the exact amount stated on the current bill, then the system allocates the payment to the arrears.

What happened

  1. The Council says Mr X has council tax arrears from previous years. The Council issued the council tax bill for 2017/18. The bill said Mr X must pay £23.60 on 4 April followed by nine monthly payments of £26.
  2. Mr X paid £21.46 on 4 April. The system allocated the payment to his arrears because it was not correct amount. The Council issued a reminder on 18 April.
  3. In May the Council transferred the payment to the current tax year. Mr X made two further payments of £21.46. Again, the payments were initially allocated to the arrears and then transferred to the current tax year.
  4. The Council issued a second reminder on 14 June. This was because Mr X had arrears of £11.22. Although he had made payments they were less than the amount stated on the bill. Mr X did not pay second reminder so the Council issued a summons on 28 June. The summons said Mr X had to pay the remaining council tax for the year of £193.22 plus court costs of £93.
  5. Mr X attended the liability hearing. He spoke with Council officers before the hearing. The officers decided to withdraw the summons and the costs because Mr X had been making regular payments. The Council re-calculated the payments so Mr X had until the end of March 2018 to pay the council tax.
  6. Mr X complained to the Council and asked for compensation. The Council declined his request and explained that it had served the summons correctly. It said it could have extended the payments over 12 months but Mr X had not asked the Council to do this.

Assessment

  1. I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.
  2. Mr X did not pay the council tax as billed. He did not pay the exact amount and the amount that he did pay was less than the amount that was due. The law says the Council can issue a summons if someone does not bring the account fully up-to-date after two reminders. Mr X did not do this so there is no suggestion of fault in the Council’s decision to serve a summons.
  3. Mr X says there was a possibility he did not have arrears for previous years. However, even if he did not have arrears he did not pay as billed so the Council was able to issue a summons.
  4. Even though the Council did not do anything wrong it cancelled the summons and the costs because it recognised Mr X had been making regular payments. It also restructured his payments to give him longer to pay. There is no reason for the Ombudsman to start an investigation.

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Final decision

  1. I will not start an investigation because there is insufficient evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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