Z2K has been helping a disabled person, Mr D, suffering from Crohn’s disease to address his council tax debt. In 2011, Camden Council decided to pursue Mr D for debt accrued from around 2006. Initially they said the debt was £118 – after calculating it and telling them that we had arrived at quite a different result, they decided the debt was in fact £39.84.
We asked them to write the debt off as it was causing Mr D an undue amount of stress, and he was in no financial position to expected to pay the amount. Regrettably Camden initially refused. However upon requesting them to conduct an internal review of that decision, they decided that it was quite inappropriate to pursue such a vulnerable person for such small amount of money, and the debt was written off. They even apologised, and said that our request ‘should have been highlighted to a senior staff member’.
We strongly condemn Camden council for initially miscalculating Mr D’s arrears and refusing to waver the debt once this error was brought to their attention. Many vulnerable people are in no position to check and challenge erroneous calculations and decisions by local and central government. It is not known how much money is unfairly and unjustly collected from other people in similar situations to Mr D.
Having said this, we are glad that after Z2K’s pressure Camden eventually admitted their mistake and wavered the debt. We hope that this unfortunate chain of events will inform future practice.
Our Caseworker Yiannis Voyias recently secured an excellent outcome for one of our clients. The account below shows how persistence and determination can pay off. However, many vulnerable debtors on low incomes, such as Ms M, lack the resources to fight for a satisfactory conclusion. Sadly this case is not isolated and organisations such as ourselves cannot help everybody; so a more efficient, reliable and compassionate system is clearly needed.
Ms M, was referred to us from Women Against Rape. She is a single mother from Burundi suffering from post traumatic stress because her husband was murdered and she had been raped and tortured. She received a Council Tax bill for a period in 2009, when she had made a council tax benefit claim, but LB Islington had lost all the papers, so no benefit was awarded. The bills exacerbated her stress problems, and so did LB Islington’s aggressive approach to the problem – taking her to court twice. Z2k working with a local Councillor Greg Foxsmith managed to convince Islington to put enforcement on hold both times since we were in the middle of addressing the issues. After being told repeatedly that LB Islington cannot backdate benefit claims more than 6 months, we requested that the debt (around £400) be written off completely. This was also refused several times , but after requesting an Internal review, and notifying them of our intention to appeal even further to the Valuation Tribunal Islington they decided to write off all the debt.