COUNCIL TAX BLUNDER

Letter caused panic and 90-year-old forced to queue up to complain

Cllrs McColl and Dickson, of the SNP/Tory administration and Jim Bollan of the Community Party. The £15 million Burgh Hall with no public toilet facility.

By Bill Heaney

Customer service is so bad at West Dunbartonshire Council that it has led to one 92-year-old woman, who received a letter informing her mistakenly that she had not paid her council tax for April, telling a man that she had become so depressed that “before I go to bed each night I pray that I don’t wake up”.

Patrick Murray told social media that he had been talking to the old lady who said she had received the letter in error.

The woman was at the Burgh Hall in Church Street to sort matters out, but had to leave after waiting for 30 minutes because she needed to go to the toilet.

Mr Murray said: “She left and came over to my workplace to use the loo. As she was leaving, she says ‘you know something son, people are so selfish these days. I’m 92 and before I go to bed each night I pray I don’t wake up’. So sad somebody feels that way.”

It appears there are no toilet facilities available for members of the public coming into the Burgh Hall to do business with the Council?

Is this yet another example of  this building, renovated recently at a cost of more than £15 million, not being fit for purpose?

  • Had the council’s communicators been communicating with The Democrat, it would have been a simple matter for them to tell us there are toilets in the reception at the Burgh Hall, but since they don’t talk to us, we find it is a waste of time trying to clarify anything with them. We apologise to the public, who employ them, for this misinformation, which came from a reader and we reported in good faith.

Carer Fiona Wilson said: “It would appear a lot of hardworking people have received letters saying they haven’t paid council tax for April when they have.

“It would appear this [money] hasn’t been transferred to this year’s accounts. What a waste of money sending out all those letters. West Dunbartonshire Council [are] spending our council tax on this and cutting services to save money!”

Dhyani Crawford, who telephoned the Council to complain, said she was placed on hold for 30 minutes until she could speak to someone about this.

Margaret Clapperton said: “I got one of these [letters]. I knew that I had paid, always keep my receipt.  I did try to phone, but the waiting time was 25 minutes.”

She described what had happened and the service she received as “incompetent”.

Joanne Forsyth said she too had received a letter – “I got one … tried to ‘phone, but it’s engaged all day surprise, surprise.”

The level of public bitterness against this Council’s incompetence would seem to be immeasurable.

Julie McGregor said: “I got one too [and] tried to phone all day, then they put it on Facebook that it was a mistake. They should get their bloody act together.

“I wasted half my day trying to phone them.”

Neither the Council leader, Jonathan McColl, finance convener Ian Dickson nor the communications department staff are prepared to discuss anything with The Democrat because we refuse to enrol with a quango which replaced the lame duck Press Council.

There is no obligation in law for us to do so and the Council does not have remit to insist that we do so. They have now banned and boycotted our digital newspaper.

Councillor Jim Bollan, of the Community Party, appears to be the only councillor prepared to stand up for press freedom and stepped in when the Council threatened to have me thrown out of the council chambers, saying I was perfectly entitled to be there.

Cllr Bollan said that mistakes like the one made about letters being sent out telling people they were in arrears with their council tax when they were not “are the mistakes that are made when you get rid of staff out of the service and expect the remaining staff to carry out the same amount of work”.

Carer Fiona Wilson said: “I’m left wondering how much it cost to send out all those letters and how that money could have been used to avoid cuts to services.”

Council taxpayers have been urged to hang on to their receipts for any transactions they do with the Council.

Cameron Cairney said he had received a letter and was “raging” at the fact that council taxpayers’ money was being “used to send out letters to people who have paid”.

Margaret Mcmillan agreed. She said: “I phoned them today about 14 times, only to be told to wait 25 minutes, so I gave up.”

Collette Sibley said she spoke to someone after holding on the line for ten minutes.

She was told someone hadn’t checked the March files before sending out the letters. Great! They do say pay before the first of the month, but why didn’t they look first?”

A number of the posts on social media about this were rather more colourful and one referred to the fact that old people who had received these letters would be “panicking” and left without any money if they felt they had to pay twice.

Cheryl Cox said it wasn’t the first time mistakes such as this had been made by the Council – “They did this to me a few years ago. Turns out they had opened two accounts in my name. I had to take down all my receipts to prove I’d been paying it. They are a joke.”

A piece of advice on how things should be done, no doubt unappreciated by the Council managers, came from Connie Scott, who said: “It’s because people who pay on 28th or 1st are still in 18/19 year’s account.

“The payments should all be transferred into 19/20 account before reminders are sent out. It’s done every year but obviously this year there was a balls up!”

Paul Harkins added: “My wee dad received the same letter today, 86 years old and in a panic all day. All services [have] been cut to a critical level with no thought of the consequences.”

David Curran said: “Same with my parents, in their 90s. I thought the exact same yesterday. For a council that is on such a tight budget, how much [money] has been wasted on this exercise.”

Council workers believe that this mistake will lead to even more cuts since additional efficiency measures will require to be put in place across either the department or council services to recoup the postage cost of all the notices sent out in error, probably £500 per 1000 notices.

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