An accountant has told of his frustration after he was issued with two summonses totalling more than £2,000 despite paying his council tax. Middlesbrough Council has now withdrawn the two summonses it sent to accountant Michael Kelly.

The first was issued on February 4 for £522.49 and the second for £1,494.84 on May 12. Mr Kelly, who is a landlord of a property in Coulby Newham but lives in Surrey, said the process to get the notices overturned had been very frustrating and caused a lot of inconvenience.

The council said Mr Kelly failed to provide an account number when he paid his council tax which meant the payment was not allocated. However, they did accept that the customer service provided had “fallen short of the high levels which are expected”.

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Mr Kelly said: “I have zero confidence that I won’t get another summons in the future, because they seem to issue these like confetti. The thing that surprised me was how the council can be judge, jury and executioner in these things.

“When I rang the magistrates’ court and said that this summons was wrong and I didn’t owe them any money, the magistrates’ court said you are going to have to take that up with the council because the council raised the summons and we are not allowed to intervene if there has clearly been an error.”

The magistrates’ court cannot consider whether the council was right to issue an order, whether you should pay the tax, whether the amount claimed is wrong, whether you should get council tax support or whether the council tax support has been worked out correctly. People who want to appeal against this need to go to the council or, if there is a dispute, can raise it with the independent valuation tribunal.

Mr Kelly believes he was fortunate to be in a position where he could challenge the council over the decision. However, he is concerned that not everyone would be able to stand up to the local authority.

He added: “I am in the fortunate position of being able to understand how wrong the council were and been able to, eventually, argue enough for the council to stop what they were doing. My real concern was what if I was old, what if I spoke English as a second language, what if I had a disability or what if I was someone who had struggled at school, you wouldn’t be able to cope with this and you’d be prosecuted by the council.

“It is appalling how much power the council have and how poor the council are at getting this right. I just worry there are people who are bullied into paying more to the council than they should be paying.”

Proceedings should be stopped if new information comes to light that was previously overlooked. Mr Kelly said he could appreciate it if it was just a one-time error but he was issues two notices.

The accountant was also left frustrated when dealing with the council as he said initially one staff member told him he would have to pay the amount on the summons despite it already being paid and was not prepared to listen, while others didn’t respond for months and he couldn’t even chat to officers on the phone. He also stated that he had expected more from Coubly Newham’s councillors.

Mr Kelly added: “Cllr David Branson did respond and was helpful, Cllr Stefan Walker came in at the eleventh hour after months and months of being copied in and Cllr Luke Mason hasn’t even bothered to reply to a single email. If the councillors don’t care, the officers can do whatever they want and the magistrates’ court just say, it’s the council, not us, what chance has an ordinary taxpayer got.”

Cllr Walker said the email initially went into his spam folder but he raised it with council officers as soon as he saw it though the case was already nearly resolved by that point. In his role as the executive member for finance and governance, Cllr Walker said he was looking at how the council can prevent these issues from arising.

Cllr Mason also said the email ended up in his spam folder but that he has now raised the delays Mr Kelly faced with senior council leaders. Since we spoke to Mr Kelly, Cllr Mason said he has now responded to him.

The council said an account number needed to be provided when making a council tax payment and in this instance, while the bill was paid, no account number was given which meant the payment remained unallocated until officers were informed by Mr Kelly.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Where it is brought to council’s attention that an error or omission has occurred any reminder or summons would be withdrawn. In addition the council have in place digital routes to access the council tax service and make notifications of changes in circumstances.

“It is acknowledged that the customer service provided to the customer on this occasion has fallen short of the high levels which are expected. However, it should be noted that council tax bills set out the duty of landlords to report changes and advises that changes are reported online, and changes reported through these channels allow a more efficient and rapid response.”

The council also said, despite a great deal of automation in the service, checks are made to see if payments have been sent before a reminder or summons is issued.


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