London Borough of Merton (22 011 270)

Category : Benefits and tax > Council tax

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 15 Dec 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about an error by the Council which led to it wrongly issuing a court summons for unpaid council tax. The Council has already provided a suitable remedy.

The complaint

  1. Mr X and Ms Y complain the Council wrongly issued court summons relating to council tax, and withdrew this when they appealed to the Valuation Tribunal. They say the Council ignored their correspondence. This caused unnecessary time and trouble, and distress. They want compensation.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
  2. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we are satisfied with the actions an organisation has taken or proposes to take. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(7), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.

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My assessment

  1. Mr X and Ms Y complain the Council wrongly issued court summons in relation to council tax while they were appealing the decision on their liability via the Valuation Tribunal.
  2. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action. Therefore we cannot investigate whether the Council’s decision to issue court summons was fault. However, we can consider the issuing of court summons as injustice arising from earlier fault. In this case, the Council has acknowledged it failed to reissue a final notice when this was returned to it undelivered.
  3. I cannot say now, had the final notice been reissued, that Mr X and Ms Y would have paid their council tax bill and avoided court proceedings. They had been in conversation with the Council for several months about their liability for this, and they had not paid it on receiving earlier reminders. They contributed to their own injustice, but the Council recognised the distress that its error caused and it withdrew the summons and apologised. There is not a good reason in this case to ask the Council to pay Mr X and Ms Y a financial remedy. The action the Council has already taken is sufficient to remedy the injustice its actions caused.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mr X and Ms Y’s complaint because I am satisfied with the action the Council has already taken.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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