Birmingham City Council apologises amid row over council tax letters
Birmingham City Council has apologised following claims that letters sent by the authority had sparked concerns and anxiety among some of its residents.
The Labour-run council has sent letters to a number of locals in the city about renewing or cancelling their council tax single person discount.
The council previously asked those residents to fill in an online review within three weeks of the original letter or face being billed the full council tax charge.
The letters sparked backlash from councillors in opposing parties, who argued that some residents may not be able to easily fill out the online form.
Some social media users were also critical, with @mikefre60 writing on X, formerly Twitter, that he was assisting a partially sighted, elderly friend with the form and claimed the letter had caused a “great deal of anxiety”.
Speaking at a Meeting of the City Council this month, Conservative Councillor Meirion Jenkins also said he had been contacted by “very angry and very upset residents” about the letter that had been sent out.
“It’s a letter that was described as being within a threatening tone – their words, not mine,” he said.
“Can he [John Cotton, leader of the council] assure us the council will show more sensitivity in these situations?
“Some of these residents are not in a position to use the internet, others might be away on holiday, they might be away for work – most of their three weeks could have been lost if they were unlucky.”
Liberal Democrat Councillor Izzy Knowles asked Councillor Brigid Jones, the council’s cabinet member for finance, whether she thinks it’s acceptable “for the council to be sending these letters to single residents, many of whom will be elderly, otherwise vulnerable, who are not digitally aware and may not have a trusted relative or friend to assist them.”
Councillor Jones responded by saying the letters were part of a “standard refresh” to make sure the residents are receiving the right benefit and said she would take the concerns raised back to council officers to see if there’s a way to help the minority who are not “digitally enabled”.
“It is worth noting that this council has rolled out schemes to get people online across the city,” she added.
Meanwhile, Councillor John Cotton, leader of the council, said: “I will reflect on the comments and we need to ensure our communications are accessible to all of our citizens.”
A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said the authority apologised for any concern the letters caused.
“Residents should not worry, we just need people to tell us if they are still eligible so they don’t end up paying more than they should,” they continued.
“Follow-up letters have been sent out which include a contact number for those unable to fill in a form online, advice that staff at neighbourhood offices will also be able to help and that they have until March 4 to complete the form.
“We would like to thank the 64 per cent of those contacted who have so far completed the form.”
Anyone not sure about filling in the online form can call 0121 303 1113.