Row over elderly resident’s unpaid council tax

John Mitchell
John Mitchell

Debt letters sent to woman in her 90s despite son’s repeated efforts to pay, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

A man desperate to pay off his vulnerable mother’s unpaid council tax says Waltham Forest Council threatened her with legal action but would not take his money.

John Mitchell, 63, whose mother is in her 90s and was diagnosed with dementia last year, discovered in December she had accidentally not paid around £500 in council tax for her Chingford home.

Despite issuing a court summons, the council did not respond to two attempts by him to pay the debt in December and January, or to repeated emails, for three months. 

While a council officer insisted his mother would have received reminders to pay via letter and text, John said the December letter was the first to arrive and that his mother has no mobile phone.

The council finally responded, accepting his money, on Thursday 18th March. John said: “I spent god knows how long trying to talk to them. Last time, I tried [to phone] I waited for over an hour on hold.

“My mum’s from the older generation and has never owed money, I knew if she opened any more of these letters it would cause her real mental distress.”

In one email to a council officer, sent on 21st January and never directly replied to, he said: “I find this totally unfair, you are dealing with a vulnerable person here and surely have a duty of care.

“By checking back on your records, you can see that for the past 50 years she has always paid on time.”

In an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service and sent on 18th March, a council officer said one of John’s direct debits was finally received the day before.

However, they did not clarify whether this was the direct debit sent by post in December or the one sent by email in January.

The officer wrote: “We currently have a high level of incoming correspondence which is taking us longer than normal to respond to. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.”

A Waltham Forest Council spokesperson said: “We are sorry to hear about the difficulties this gentleman has faced in dealing with his mother’s council tax bill. We have recently received a Direct Debit Mandate and have removed the summons costs.”