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.

Westminster City Council (18 016 072)

Category : Benefits and tax > Council tax

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 27 Jun 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council is not at fault in charging recovery costs of £190 to Mr X for Council Tax arrears of £5.03.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains that the Council has charged recovery costs of £190 for a Council Tax bill of £5.03 and did not contact him by telephone or email to notify him of the outstanding bill despite previously requesting these contact details.

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
  • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
  • the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  1. 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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
    • Considered the complaint and the information provided by Mr X;
    • Made enquiries of the Council and considered the information provided;
    • Invited Mr X and the Council to comment on the draft decision.

Back to top

What I found

  1. Section 233 of the Local Government Act 1972 provides a council may service documents on a person by sending it to their proper address. The proper address is taken to be the last known address.

What happened

  1. Mr X owned a property which he rented to tenants. He provided the Council with a forwarding address, his email and telephone contact details.
  2. In April 2017 Mr X sold the property. Mr X says he contacted the Council on 3 April 2017 to advise the property was vacant but he did not have his account number when making the call. The Council does not have a record of this call.
  3. The Council issued a Council Tax bill for 2017/18 to Mr X and sent it to his last known address. However, Mr X had moved from this property so he did not receive the bill. The Council then issued a reminder, summons and obtained a liability order. It sent these documents to Mr X’s last known address. Mr X had incurred costs for the summons and liability order at this point.
  4. The Council passed the account to enforcement agents to collect in August 2017. On 24 August 2017 the enforcement agents sent a notice of enforcement to Mr X at his last known address and charged £75 compliance fee. The level of fees charged by enforcement agents are set by law.
  5. The new owners of the property contacted the Council in August 2017 to advise they had bought the property. The Council issued a new bill to Mr X for 2 to 4 April 2017. This bill was for £5.03 plus the summons and liability order costs of £115. The Council issued the bill to Mr X’s last known address.
  6. The enforcement agent’s records show it sent a text message to Mr X to advise his account had been passed to them. Mr X did not contact the enforcement agents.
  7. In December 2017 the enforcement agents sent a text message to Mr X to warn they were intending to visit his property. Mr X contacted the Council and paid the debt of £195.03.
  8. Mr X made a complaint to the Council. He considered the Council should have contacted him by email or telephone as it had those details for him. He also expected the Council to call him after he contacted it on 3 April 2017.
  9. The Council considered Mr X’s complaint through its two stage complaints procedure. It did not uphold Mr X’s complaint. It considered it was Mr X’s responsibility to notify it of his change of address and it was not aware Mr X’s none of the demands or recovery documents send to Mr X’s last know address were returned. The Council said it was not its practice to contact people who had not paid by email or telephone and there was no legal requirement to do so.

My assessment

  1. The Council is required to send Council Tax bills, reminders and other recovery documents to a council tax payer’s last known address. Mr X did not inform the Council that he had moved. So the Council is not at fault for sending Mr X’s Council Tax bill, reminder and other recovery documents to his last known address.
  2. The Council had Mr X’s email address and telephone number but did not contact him by these methods. But this does not amount to fault. The Council is only required to send bills, reminders and recovery documents by post to the last known address. It is not required to contact council tax payers by email or telephone to remind them they have not paid. No documents were returned to the Council so the Council could not have known Mr X had moved. So the Council is not at fault for charging recovery costs to Mr X for the outstanding Council Tax bill.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. The Council is not at fault in charging recovery costs of £195 to Mr X for Council Tax arrears of £5.03. I have therefore completed my investigation.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page