Privacy settings

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Cornwall Council (17 020 278)

Category : Benefits and tax > Council tax

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 25 May 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms B’s complaint about the way the Council has dealt with her outstanding council tax. This is because there is no evidence of fault in the way the Council reached its decision.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call, Ms B, complained about the way the Council has dealt with her outstanding council tax.

Back to top

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 or continue with an investigation if we believe:
  • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
  • it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
  • it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  1. 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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the information Ms B sent to us, her recent correspondence with the Council and the Ministry of Justice’s Taking Control of Goods: National Standards. I have given Ms B an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

Back to top

What I found

  1. Ms B told us, when she moved back into her home, after being homeless for over 12 months, a bailiff arrived. She says she had not previously been aware of council tax outstanding for the period she was homeless. Ms B has provided evidence to the Council of her mental health conditions. She told us she is a single parent and her children have disabilities. She asked the Council to take back the debt from the enforcement agents (bailiffs).
  2. In a letter to Ms B in April 2018 the Council said it commits itself, and anyone carrying out arrears collection activities on its behalf, to identifying a council tax payer’s vulnerability and offering a fair and good quality service which can be adapted to suit their particular needs and abilities. The Council said both it and the enforcement agents had made efforts since March 2016 to reach an agreement to pay the debt. The Council said its view was Ms B was able to discuss payment of the account and it noted she had made a payment in February and March 2018. The Council said it considered there was nothing to prevent Ms B from engaging with its enforcement agents so it would not ask them to return the debt.
  3. Ms B told us although she has rented out part of her property, this was done with the help of a close friend because, most days, she cannot cope with going out and dealing with people. Ms B says what has happened has caused her even more anxiety, she is suicidal and she needs enforcement action to stop to alleviate her stress levels. She wants the Council to take back the debt from its enforcement agents.
  4. In February 2018 the Council’s enforcement agents agreed a temporary hold on enforcement action to give Ms B an opportunity to provide information about the work carried out to one of her properties. The Council has told us there is another temporary hold on enforcement action which is currently in place. This is to give Ms B, with help and support if she needs it, an opportunity to discuss a suitable payment arrangement taking account of her personal circumstances. If the Council and Ms B reach an agreement and Ms B pays the amounts agreed, this will avoid any further enforcement action.
  5. The Ministry of Justice’s National Standards say enforcement agents and creditors each have a role in ensuring vulnerable people are protected. The standards say the exercise of appropriate discretion is needed. They also set out when enforcement agents must withdraw from domestic premises. But the standards do not say a creditor must always withdraw a case from enforcement agents if a debtor is vulnerable.
  6. It is not the case the Council has failed to consider the information Ms B has provided about her vulnerability. The standards allow for the exercise of discretion. The Council has considered the information Ms B provided but it has not agreed to ask its enforcement agents to return the debt. Ms B may disagree with this decision but our role is to look at the way the Council reached its decision. In this case the Council has considered the National Standards and the information Ms B provided. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council reached its decision so the Ombudsman cannot question it or achieve the outcome Ms B is seeking.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because there is no evidence of fault in the way the Council reached its decision.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page