Why is it so hard to pay council tax to Edinburgh City Council? – Helen Martin

A warrant threatening legal action, long periods of pushing buttons on the phone in a bid to speak to a human, and a litany of other issues faced Helen Martin as she tried to pay a council tax bill.

Monday, 12th August 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 12th August 2019, 7:00 am
Why is it so hard to speak to a human when trying to sort out a council tax issue?

More than 25 years ago, I was involved in a statutory repair which involved an attic flat in our tenement. Officials said that flat didn’t exist as it had never been registered as a separate dwelling.

I contacted the council’s chief executive at the time (Tom Aitchison) and asked him how that could be the case when the owner was paying council tax?

He simply replied that there was no communication between different council departments, a stunning admission but something I expected to improve over the years, once IT built up to share relevant information.

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Those who now struggle to cope with the council and its long and hopeless automated phone options – especially when it comes to council tax – will know it’s still stuck in the mud.

Paying by direct debit presents few problems. With lower incomes that’s not always possible. People like me who have long-term rental flats also face council tax nightmares, particularly between tenants.

Here’s a classic tale. As a registered landlord, I rang the council tax department to confirm that the tenants had left and refurbs would be going on, therefore I would be paying the tax with a ten per cent discount as no one was ­living there.

Nothing happened for two months until I got a reminder/warrant letter threatening legal action. I phoned them again to say I hadn’t received any bill. No, I couldn’t pay by direct debit because the vacancy may only last for a few weeks or a month or two.

They then figured out a new monthly charge for both flats including the debt of the first two months due to their lack of response. I was given a specific date to pay for both flats – which I did for both July and August, with the bank ­assuring ­transfers would be in the council account within two hours.

New tenants moved in on the same day of my latest payment, a Friday, and on Monday I received an e-mail saying I owed the entire year’s council tax for one of the flats and the bill had been sent to the rental property, not to my address.

Another long, drawn out, button pushing attempt to speak to a human finally got me through. Despite having paid on the scheduled day, I was told council tax staff couldn’t see payments to their bank account for up to 48 hours later (no explanation for that). But the system didn’t wait for that check if payments had been made, it sent out an immediate demand for the rest of the year’s tax.

Why wasn’t the letter being sent to my address, I asked, rather than to a flat that might have been unoccupied or, as it happened, was going to horrify the new tenants who had moved in on the last working day? The girl didn’t have an answer for that one. Nor could she explain why the tenants hadn’t been logged, even though the letting agents said they had done so.

None of this was her fault. She took all the necessary details, said the letter which had been sent to the wrong place could be torn up, I would be sent a bill or a refund and the tenants would be sent their standard council tax bill. It would all be straightened out.

The staff are facing a tough ­challenge with a hellish automated phone system, no live access to see ­payments, apparently no chance to leave notes on an individual’s account records, insufficient communication to do their job properly, and automated annual billings which are wrong.

Bad for me? Much worse for those who might struggle to pay for one month then get hit with a legal push for over £1000. The only ‘firm’ harder to deal with than utility companies is our council.

SNP benefit from political chaos

MOST of us here, and many in England, think Boris Johnson’s Raving Loony Party needs to be obliterated before it kills the UK.

England’s voters’ biggest problem is that they believe they have only two major parties to choose between – Tory or Labour, neither of which now appear able to govern or run a coffee morning. The concept of a multiple coalition doesn’t work with the Westminster system.

Westminster Tories have dismissed the Scottish Tory leader’s opinions and it’s the same for Labour.

The rising poll for SNP votes here is not necessarily about nationalism or independence. It’s the only alternative to political suicide.

Folk sick to death of project disasters

THE Sick Kids Hospital disaster is just another example of how public projects (building the Scottish Parliament, installing trams, or anything else) goes wrong.

What puzzles the public who will wind up paying the extra costs, is why the builders and contracted engineers, tradesmen etc, don’t have their work inspected by experts at each stage, are not held responsible for their failing, “cowboy” work and missed deadlines, and are legally obliged to correct their blunders no matter how much it costs them?

Keep it classy

SUPPORTING council plans for a ‘new’ Edinburgh isn’t my norm, but boosting assembly, leisure, restaurants and bars on Princes Street with the city’s finest views, relocating successful retail chains to the new St James Centre, and rejecting tartan tat is positive and inspiring. One thing that would blend with all that on the premier street is classy, upmarket gift, craft and art shops which meet council approval.