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South Oxfordshire District Council (21 008 564)

Category : Benefits and tax > Council tax

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 05 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s council tax complaint. The Council has apologised appropriately for the failings in communication and billing. We would not investigate the council tax account because there was a right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. An appeal was not necessary because Mr X accepted and paid the final bill.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council failed to handle his council tax account properly. The Council:
      1. granted a council tax discount and now dispute it.
      2. sent a council tax bill demanding the wrong amount.
      3. failed to deal with his correspondence since 6 April 2021.
  2. Mr X says the Council’s failures, particularly the communication delay, caused him time and trouble, anger, and distress. He says the Council caused the expense of calls. He wants the Council to acknowledge its failings and confirm the council tax discount.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we are satisfied with the actions a council has taken or proposes to take. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
  2. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  3. 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 and comments and discussed the complaint with him by telephone. The Council has clarified the position. I have considered correspondence provided by both.

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My assessment

  1. I will not investigate Mr X’s complaint for the following reasons:
  2. There is no remaining injustice or good reason to investigate the communications and complaint handling. The Council’s council tax letters of 2 September and 4 October 2021 apologise appropriately to Mr X for: ‘the delay in dealing with correspondence and telephone conversations, upset and inconvenience’, and for the ‘contradictory information’ about the bill.
  3. A dispute about a council tax discount or property exemption is outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction because Mr X had a right of appeal to a tribunal (see paragraph 4 and 5 above). The Valuation Tribunal deals with appeals against decisions on council tax liability and council tax support or reduction. Mr X tells me he knew about his right of appeal.
  4. It would have been reasonable for Mr X to use his right of appeal because the Valuation Tribunal has the power to decide the case and award a discount. However, Mr X and the Council have confirmed there is no need because the matter is resolved. On the 4 October 2021 the Council granted the discount for a longer period leaving a balance of £18:20. Mr X paid the bill.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s council tax complaint. The Council has apologised appropriately for the failings in communication and billing. We would not investigate the council tax account because there was a right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. An appeal was not necessary because Mr X accepted and paid the final bill.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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