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Leicester City Council (18 001 239)

Category : Other Categories > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 27 Mar 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council is at fault for not routinely providing copies of Council Tax bills and correspondence in large print to someone who is partially sighted. The Council has removed all recovery costs from Council Tax arrears. So, although there is no financial injustice, the complainant has been put to unnecessary time and trouble in having to constantly ask for documents in large print and this injustice needs a remedy. Devising a system that does not rely on the complainant asking for large print documents every time, remedies this complaint.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains the Council has not made reasonable adjustments by routinely sending all documents out to him in large print font (Arial 30 bold).

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I read the complaint put in by Mr X.
  2. I considered the Council’s comments about the complaint and any supporting documents it provided.
  3. I gave the Council and Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X says he does not use the telephone or email. He complains the Council does not routinely send out documents in large print and so he finds it difficult to pay his Council Tax bill. Mr X says the wants someone from the Council to go through the huge pile of small print documents he has.
  2. The Council has said it cannot routinely send out correspondence in large print in the first instance. But, if Mr X contacts the department on the letter officers will re-send the letter/invoice in large print. The Council has given Mr X the contact details of a named officer and explained that he can also leave a message asking for documents on a general telephone line.
  3. Mr X complains that having to ask for documents to be re-sent causes him added stress and has meant that he misses paying Council tax bills, leading to extra charges on the account.

Provision of Large print documents

  1. Under the Equality Act 2010 Act, the Council has a duty to make reasonable adjustments (or changes) to avoid putting people with disabilities at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled. The duty deals with three different requirements.
    • Provisions, criteria or practices - including company policies.
    • Physical features, such as the layout of and access to shops.
    • Provision of auxiliary aids - including providing information in an accessible format such as braille, large print or email.
  2. The Council has said it has set a visual impairment marker on Mr X’s file. So, any letters produced by an officer will be in large print. But the visual impairment marker does not affect how the automated process works when producing reminders for Council Tax. The Council has said it will print annual bills in a different format separately.
  3. The Council has said that it has now put on hold the 2019/20 annual bills for both Mr X’s properties. This should avoid the Council issuing standard bills and allow the Council to print his bills locally in an enlarged format increasing the font size. This is a reasonable adjustment the Council intends to provide to all partially sighted customers who want it.
  4. If Mr X pays his bills and payment plan on time by direct debit then there will be no need for the Council to send any further documents. However, if Mr X continues to miss payments, the Council has said its automated systems mean that some automated documents, such as reminder notices, will get sent out in small print.
  5. The Council says Mr X will need to phone to ask the Council for them to be resent in large print. Mr X has said that he does not use the telephone.
  6. My view is there is fault by the Council in failing to make reasonable adjustments. The Council needs to ensure it is meeting its Equality Act duties when is becomes aware a reasonable adjustment is needed. Even if it sends standard letters automatically, I consider the Council should have measures in place to ensure it can send the letters in large print when it has been made aware of the need for a reasonable adjustment without Mr X having to repeatedly ask. The need for Mr X to contact the Council every time a bill or letter is sent is burdensome and causes him injustice. It is up to the Council to work out a robust system to help this, which may involve an officer checking his account.
  7. Mr X wants a Council officer to meet with him to go through all the paperwork. It is not proportionate for the Council to go through every piece of correspondence. I consider that sending Mr X large print bills for future years, with a large print payment plan for his arrears is enough to ensure Mr X is aware of the amounts he needs to pay.

Council tax recovery

  1. Mr X is responsible for the Council Tax on 2 properties and owes over £4000, without recovery costs.
  2. The Council has removed all recovery costs and withdrawn the debt from Enforcement Agents. So, there is no financial injustice caused to Mr X at present.
  3. The Council intends to provide Mr X with large print bills for 2019/2020 and has suggested a payment plan of £150 a month for the next 30 months to clear the arrears, in addition to payments for 2019/2020. I cannot see what more the Council can do. If Mr X does not make payments the Council is entitled by law to take action to recover the money.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council should set up a robust system to ensure that Mr X is sent all correspondence in Large Print (preferably Arial bold 30pt), including bills, reminder notices and correspondence. Details of the system should be provided to the Ombudsman within 3 months of the date of the decision on this complaint;
  2. The Council should remove all charges from Mr X’s Council Tax account until the date of the decision on this complaint. (This part of the remedy has already been carried out.)
  3. The Council should write to Mr X with details of the payment plan it considers suitable, with large print copies of all supporting documents to ensure Mr X is aware of when the debt has occurred within one month of the date of the decision on this complaint.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation of this complaint. This complaint is upheld, as the Council has not made reasonable adjustments to allow Mr X to receive documents in large print. There is no financial injustice caused to Mr X as the Council has removed any recovery costs from his account, but the provision of large print documents remedies the injustice of time and trouble caused to Mr X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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