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Woman who overpaid council tax summonsed

By George Makin | Sandwell | News | Published:

Sandwell Council has been ordered to pay £200 compensation to a woman it summonsed for non-payment of council tax when in reality she had paid over £600 too much.

Sandwell Council

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman made the order after finding the authority’s was at fault when its computer system could not differentiate between payments made for different years.

The council has now paid the unnamed woman £200 in compensation and also refunded £610 in over payments plus £310 costs charged by bailiffs who tried to collect the non-existent bill.

The ombudsman also criticised Sandwell for its failure to act when the woman complained when the authority issued her a summons.

A report by the independent watchdog found the errors began after the woman incurred a small debt in 2018 of £35.93 after she moved into a new home.

Referring to her as Mrs C, the ombudsman wrote the council’s computer system drew up a repayment plan but because she slightly overpaid each month it could not recognise the difference between the two bills.

It instead applied all the payment to one financial year and in December 2018 issued an automated summons for the by now non-existent debt.

After she complained, the council withdrew the legal notice but a month later the computer issued a second summons.

Criticising Sandwell in his report, the ombudsman said: “There was a missed opportunity to resolve the matter at Ms C’s meeting with the council in December 2018. The council should have manually moved any mis-allocated payments between the two financial years and reissued a new bill with lower instalments.

“This action would have avoided the further recovery action. I note the council has apologised to Ms C but consider a further remedy is required for this and the failings identified in its subsequent complaint handling.”

Sandwell Council has declined to comment.

George Makin

By George Makin

Local Democracy Reporting Service

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