A Chiswick resident who tried to pay an outstanding £80 on his 86-year old mother’s Council tax to cancel a threatened court summons has spoken of his frustration with council bureaucracy.
Andy Pease fell foul of data protection rules when Hounslow Council staff refused to give details as he was not the holder of the account, despite the fact that his mother could not answer for herself. She is blind, and suffers from dementia and arthritis.
The Council has said unless they have permission for others to act on their behalf, legally they can only deal with the account holder. They were willing to discuss the situation with Mr. Pease if he got back in contact, they said and were awaiting further information on the case.
Andy Pease said his mother lives alone in a bungalow provided by Hounslow Council, and he pays all her bills by direct debit from his own account, including her rent.
Last week she received a letter from Hounslow Council informing her Hounslow had applied to Feltham magistrates court for a summons for non payment of council tax.
"This is the first I knew of any outstanding council tax, as far as I was aware Hounslow took any money owing out of my bank account," said Mr. Pease, who then phoned the Council.
"The woman that answered the phone refused to give me any details as I was not the account holder, even though the money came out of my bank account. She insisted on speaking to my mother, who because of her dementia could not answer the security question.
"I explained the situation again and was finally told that my mother’s benefits cover almost all of her council tax apart from £80 per year which my mother should pay. She could not tell me why they had not taken the money out of my account along with the rent. She informed me that the outstanding council tax was £80, but because they had now taken out a summons, the cost would be £283.
"I was told that if I paid the outstanding amount, the summons would be cancelled. I said that I would pay this amount over the phone by credit card. I was then told the lady I was speaking to could not take payment so she said she would put me through to the cashiers, which she did.
"The number she put me through to was an automated line which would not let me proceed until I entered the account number which we did not have.
"I could not go back so I had to hang up. As I had spent 40 minutes on the phone already, I did not have time to call back again.
"I called Hounslow again this morning, and had to go through the whole story all over again. Again I was told I could not pay, because of data protection I asked to speak to a manager. This of course was not possible, but I was told a manager would call me back (they didn't ) so I am now waiting for the court date to be sent."
He said he felt he had "bent over backwards" to pay the money and was prepared to turn up in court and tell his story to highlight the behaviour of the Council.
Hounslow Council have issued the following statement on the matter; “It can be difficult for families trying to help their loved ones in these matters, as legally we are only allowed to deal with the account holder unless, we receive certain information permitting others to act on their behalf. This is an understandable measure to make sure vulnerable residents aren’t open to abuse.
"If Mr Pease provides this information, we would be able to discuss the account with him, as we already do in many other similar cases. We are still awaiting the details we need, but we will contact Mr Pease as soon as possible to arrange for them to be provided.
"In this particular case, no direct debit has ever been set up for the council tax bill, so we had no choice but to deal with the situation as we would with any unpaid bill, including a reminder letter being sent warning that a summons may be issued."
Reproduced with acknowledgements to ChiswickW4.com.