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Northumberland County Council (19 020 211)

Category : Benefits and tax > Council tax

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 31 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about how the Council handled his council tax account and an error in applying a reduction which it later removed. There is no fault in the Council requiring Mr X to pay the council tax he owes. Mr X’s second complaint, about the bill for the new tax year, is premature to this office. He should first complete the Council’s complaint procedure.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains that the Council is at fault in how it calculated his entitlement to council tax support for the year 2019 to 2020. Mr X says the Council mistakenly awarded a disability allowance of £430.08. It then removed the allowance demanding he pay. Mr X says the Council forced him to pay by threatening legal action, although the amount was suspended whilst he was disputing the matter. He says the Council has caused him distress and did not reply to all his communications. It should improve the service and refund his payment.
  2. Mr X complains the Council has issued an incorrect demand for council tax for the year from April 2020. Mr X says the bill is based on the wrong property band. The Council has failed to implement the Valuation Tribunal decision which changed the banding, in his favour, with effect from July 2018.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We can decide whether to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mr X’s information, comments and reply to my draft decision statement. I have considered the Council’s reply to his complaint dated 30 January 2020.

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What I found

  1. The Council’s letter to Mr X says he owes 4 months council tax payments amounting to £430.08. It advises that he has a right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal against the decision on his council tax support. It says if clearing the debt in one payment is difficult and he requires more time to pay that can be arranged.
  2. Mr X’s reply to the draft decision says his complaint is not about liability to pay council tax. He says the debt arose because the Council made an ‘incorrect application of an allowance to which I was not eligible’. Mr X objects to being made to pay when it was a council error that caused the debt.
  3. Mr X says he won his appeal to the Valuation Tribunal on the council tax banding of his property. He says the Council has not applied the new banding and its bill for the next tax year is wrong. He says the Council’s communication is poor and he has complained to it.

Analysis

  1. I will not investigate this complaint for the following reasons:
  2. There is no fault in the Council’s approach. It should obtain from Mr X the correct amount of council tax owing on his property and he is legally obliged to pay. Considering the circumstances, the Council was willing to accept payment by instalments to avoid causing Mr X difficulty.
  3. Mr X has clarified that he accepts he was not entitled to the reduction of his council tax. However, should he have such a complaint the Ombudsman would not investigate because it would be outside our jurisdiction. Disputes about entitlement to council tax support or a council tax exemption are appealable to the Valuation Tribunal (see paragraph 4 above).
  4. The law requires the Ombudsman to give a council a reasonable opportunity to deal with a complaint. Usually a complainant should complete a council’s complaint procedure before coming to this office. I will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the bill for the next tax year because it is ‘premature’ to this office. Mr X can return to us once the Council has dealt with his complaint, if he disagrees with the outcome.

Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about how the Council handled his council tax account and an error in applying a reduction which it later removed. There is no fault in the Council requiring Mr X to pay the council tax he owes. Mr X’s second complaint, about the bill for the new tax year, is premature to this office. He should first complete the Council’s complaint procedure.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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