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London Borough of Merton (20 009 370)

Category : Benefits and tax > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 27 Jul 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss B complains about enforcement agents disposing of items seized from her property for Council Tax debt. She says the Council failed to reimburse her the full value of the items. We discontinued our investigation into Miss B’s complaint because we are satisfied with the Council’s proposed actions.

The complaint

  1. Miss B complains about enforcements agents wrongly disposing of items seized from her property in 2018.
  2. She says the agents wrongly disposed of the items and the Council has failed to offer her the full value of the items.
  3. She also complains about the way an enforcement agent communicated with her about her complaint.
  4. She says she has suffered financial loss and distress.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, 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 a council has taken or proposes to take. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(7), as amended)
  3. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Miss B provided with her complaint. We made enquiries with the Council and I considered its response with the relevant law and guidance.
  2. Miss B and the Council had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I carefully considered the comments I received before making my final decision.

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What I found

Background

  1. Miss B had Council Tax arrears that were passed to enforcements agents by the Council. In 2018 the enforcements agents seized items from her property because she had failed to make payments.
  2. Miss B complained to the Council because she says the enforcement agents would not reply to her questions about where the seized items were stored.

Chronology

  1. Miss B complained to the Ombudsman in December 2020. We sent her complaint to the Council because it had not considered it through its own complaint process.
  2. The Council provided its final response in April 2021. It said the items seized from her property in 2018 had been disposed of in error. It provided the enforcement agents inventory of the items it recorded.
  3. The Council estimated the value of the seized property to be £1653.80. It offered to pay Miss B this amount and an additional £500.00 in recognition of its error.
  4. Miss B told the Council it had undervalued the seized items. She also said there were other items seized by enforcement agents which were not included on the inventory list.
  5. The Council asked Miss B to provide evidence of the missing items for it to review. Miss B did not provide any evidence.

My findings

  1. The Council investigated Miss B’s complaint and found the enforcement agents had disposed of Miss B’s items in error. It made Miss B an offer to reimburse the value of the items and an additional financial payment in recognition of its fault.
  2. I am satisfied the Council’s financial remedy is reasonable for the injustice it caused Miss B. Further investigation is unlikely to achieve a different outcome.
  3. The Council explained why it cannot investigate the complaint about the enforcement agent any further at this time. It said it will reopen the complaint when it is able to respond to this point if Miss B wants to pursue this part of her complaint. I do not have anything further to add to this part of the complaint.

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Final decision

  1. I discontinued my investigation.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate Miss B’s complaint about the actions of the enforcement agents or Council in 2018. This part of the complaint is late and I see no good reason to exercise discretion in this case.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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