Ombudsman upholds complaint over Harrogate council tax collection

The Local Government Ombudsman has upheld a complaint against Harrogate Borough Council.
The Local Government Ombudsman has upheld a complaint against Harrogate Borough Council.

The local government Ombudsman has upheld a complaint against Harrogate Borough Council over its handling of a case where a man receiving disability benefits ended up thousands of pounds in arrears with his council tax.

The man, identified as 'Mr X' in case documents, complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman over the action the council took after he fell behind on his council tax by about £7,500.

It stemmed from February 2014 when Mr X's partner moved in with him.

Mr X, according to the council, did not complete forms detailing the change - leading to his council tax concessions, which were related to disability benefits he received, being cancelled.

According to the Ombudsman, in May 2014 Mr X told the council he was struggling to pay his council tax. The council sent him a form to re-claim council tax support, but he did not return it.

In 2015, the council passed Mr X’s debt to bailiffs to recover, however upon visiting his house, found he had insufficient goods for them to carry out a recovery.

The case was also progressed to court, but was withdrawn by the council, whose investigations rejected Mr X's assertion that his partner had moved out, or was a live-in carer.

However, the Ombudsman found the council had not carried out the proper "balancing exercise" when deciding what action to take to recoup the tax.

"So, I cannot see what consideration it gave to Mr X’s disability or consequences of bankruptcy. Nor did it give advice to its officers on how to carry out such an exercise. This is where the fault lies," the Ombudsman's findings state.

While stating the complaint would be upheld, the Ombudsman stated they were satisfied that the council has "learnt lessons from this complaint and will remedy the injustice caused to Mr X".

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter