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Basildon Council has apologised after taking to nine months to respond to a woman who claimed she had been wrongly charged council tax on an empty property.
The woman, referred to as “Miss X” by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, applied for the council to waive an extra 200 per cent charge of the council tax rates on her property, saying she was going through a high-risk pregnancy and dealing with a dispute with her neighbour.
It took nine months for the council to tell Miss X she could appeal their refusal of a discretionary reduction to this extra premium, after being contacted by the Ombudsman, and three months to tell her that her application had been refused the previous year.
According to a report, the Ombudsman decided not to investigate if the council was right to apply the premium or to refuse her application for a discretionary reduction, but found fault with how it communicated with her.
The council has apologised to Miss X and paid her £100.
A Basildon Council spokesperson said in a statement: “We accept the findings of the Ombudsman’s report and apologise to the complainant for the poor communication while handling their enquiries.
“The council has begun acting on the recommendations from the report and will be formally contacting the customer in writing as agreed.”
Councils are entitled to charge extra council tax on empty properties. This can be an extra 100 per cent of normal council tax rates if the property has been empty for more than two years and an extra 200 per cent if it’s been empty for more than five years.
However, councils can make discretionary reductions to this premium for people it considers to be in financial need.
According to the report, Miss X’s property had been empty since 2013.
She was going through a high-risk pregnancy and a dispute with her neighbour, and asked the council to waive the premium until she sold her house, the report continues.
She first applied for a discretionary reduction in November 2020 and the council took three months to tell her it had been refused. She applied a second time in January 2021 after not receiving a response and made a complaint the same day.
The council only wrote to Miss X to tell her she could appeal its decision to the Valuation Tribunal in November 2021, after being asked if it had already done so by the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman also expects councils to publish a process for dealing with requests for discretionary reductions, but there was no policy published on Basildon Council’s website, according to the report.
It continues to say the council is working on a discretionary reduction policy which will be on its website by this month.
The Ombudsman did not investigate the council’s decision to refuse her the discretionary reduction, because Miss X could have appealed to the valuation tribunal.