Stockton Council accused of “demanding money with menaces”

A father has accused a local authority of “demanding money with menaces” after his daughter was unexpectedly hit with a council tax demand and given seven days to pay – or face court action.

Alan Thompson’s daughter Naomi was left in tears after receiving the letter from Stockton Borough Council.

At the time the single working mother, who receives housing benefit as she is on a low income, was in the process of having her claim re-assessed by the council due to a change of circumstances.

The 34-year-old was told to pay three separate sums totalling £474.72 with the council claiming she had been overpaid going back to December 2011. Panicking as she could not afford it, the money was paid by Mr Thompson on his debit card.

However after an investigation the council later determined Ms Thompson in fact only owed £23 and the rest of the money was refunded.

During her correspondence with the council Ms Thompson, of Elmwood Road, Eaglescliffe, received a letter containing 29 pages of calculations which her father, a former bank manager, said left them both flummoxed.

Mr Thompson, who lives in Middleton-in-Teesdale, was prompted to contact The Northern Echo to explain the situation his daughter had faced after reading a recent report about councils’ increasing use of bailiffs to chase council tax debts.

 He said:
“The council’s approach amounted to demanding money with menaces. Naomi was in tears.

“At the time her account was under assessment so we assumed there was no case to answer until it had been verified what she did owe.

“One of the amounts demanded we did not even know about and when we asked for information on it they could not give us it.

“The staff I met also admitted they did not understand the system they were working with. There are some serious discrepancies here and I suspect lots of people may be getting a raw deal.”

Under the legislation governing council tax collection when a bill is issued in respect of a previous financial year, payment is due in full, rather than in instalments, and the recovery process can move straight to a final notice without the requirement to issue a reminder first.

 In responding to Ms Thompson, Stockton Council apologised for not making a distinction on its website between different recovery processes for current and previous years and said it would be reviewing the wording it published to make it clearer.

Mrs Thompson said:

“I have no faith in Stockton Council, but these kind of errors seem to be happening all over.

“Fortunately I am in a situation where I have got people I can turn to, but a lot of people don’t, or they will just pay the money no questions asked.”

A Stockton Council spokesman said:

“Our collection policy is designed to be fair and consistent.

“People’s specific circumstances are also taken into account when details are provided to us.”

Source – Northern Echo, 13 Apr 2015

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