Town Hall accepts ombudsman criticism over business rate debt collection

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

Islington Council has accepted criticisms made by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) over the way it tried to recover historic business rate debts.

The Town Hall was investigated by the LGSCO following its attempts to recover debts going back to the early 2000s despite the person involved telling them she was not liable.

The council delayed trying to track down the payments for 16 years, with the LGSCO finding it at fault as this meant the person concerned was not able to challenge the decision, no longer having any evidence with which to defend themselves.

LGSCO Michael King said: “While councils have every right to pursue people who do not pay their tax or business rates, they should also do this without undue delay and not let debts drift to such an extent.

“Any decision to pursue an historic debt should be based on sound evidence it is fair, appropriate and reasonable to do so.

“To take someone to court for bankruptcy is a very serious matter and, in the Haringey case, the council based its decision on a flawed assessment. This has had significant financial and emotional consequences for the woman.

“I now call on both authorities to consider my recommendations and accept the improvements I have recommended they make.”

Islington council has agreed to pay £100 to the person concerned to acknowledge the avoidable time, trouble and frustration it caused.

Haringey council has also agreed to pay over £1,000 to a woman aganst whom it started bankruptcy proceedings for business rates of more than £50,000 based on an incorrect assessment of her assets.

An Islington council spokesperson said: “We accept the ombudsman’s findings and have agreed to write off the debt, to reimburse money paid by the individual and to make a payment in acknowledgement of the case.

“We are also reviewing our council tax and business rate collection policies to take the findings into account.”