Calderdale woman ‘made ill’ by council’s tax blunders

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The FINANCIAL — A Calderdale woman, who has autism, claims the way Calderdale council mishandled her council tax relief made her ill, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman was told.

The woman and her partner were students when they claimed council tax relief from Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council.

This should have meant they did not have to pay tax. But despite the couple providing evidence on numerous occasions that they were both students, the council decided her partner was not a student, and therefore the couple would only receive a 25% discount.

This led to months of confusion where the council regularly required the same evidence from the couple, demanded different amounts to be paid and at times threatened to take them to court if they did not.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found that when the woman complained to Calderdale council it took too long to respond to her and did not address most of the points she raised.

The council’s complaints policy says a named manager would investigate and respond to her, but this did not happen. Instead, the officer who dealt with her initial complaint responded with the same information.

This was not the first time the Ombudsman was aware of the council not following its complaints policy.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said

“Because of the council’s mishandling of this woman’s council tax bill and subsequent poor complaints response, the woman says she has been made ill – she is unable to work and fears receiving correspondence from the council.

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“The council has one stage in its complaints procedure. This means it only gives itself one chance to carry out a robust, fair and impartial investigation.

“Complaint procedures should be flexible and open enough to consider all relevant information and revisit matters if needed. Otherwise it is unfair to the people who complain and deprives the council of the opportunity to learn and put things right without involving us.

“I hope the changes the council makes to its complaints processes will ensure it deals appropriately with any complaints it receives in future.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council should apologise to the woman and repay the £240.36 she has paid it. It should also pay her £500 for the distress caused and time and trouble she has been put to in bringing the complaint.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should review its complaints procedure to ensure it carries out robust fair investigations.

The Ombudsman issues guidance to councils across a wide range of subjects and is today publishing a new guide on Effective Complaints Handling for local authority complaints handlers.

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