Terminally ill woman sent court threat for £14 after payment confusion

Phillipa Madams

Phillipa Madams

First published in News Bucks Free Press: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

A TERMINALLY ill woman was sent a court summons for non-payment of £14 in council tax on Christmas Eve - having previously been told she didn't owe anything.

Phillipa Madams was shocked to receive a letter telling her to attend Aylesbury Magistrates' Court on January 14, having had no idea she was still in debt to Chiltern District Council.

Widowed Miss Madams, who was recently forced to retire from her job as a teacher at Dr Challoner's High School after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, has now paid off the money she owed.

But she said: "They were willing to take me to court over £14 - they haven't apologised for that. They apologised for the calculation and how they got it wrong in the first place."

The 40-year-old rented a home in Cumberland Close, Little Chalfont, until August 31 and asked Chiltern District Council if she owed any council tax when she moved and was told she did not.

A breakdown in communication between the two parties meant the only way the council could reclaim the money was through the courts.

Miss Madams, who now lives in Shoreham, Sussex, said: "It was just unbelievable to get this letter on Christmas Eve. I’m happy to pay them if that is what I owe them but I just want to know why. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to find out before I do.

"I paid by direct debit and they already told me I didn’t owe anything. My inclination was to go to court and say here is the money, you can have it as long as you tell me what it is for.

"I’ve got no objection to paying it, but it’s the principle more than the actual money. Taking me to court, how much is that going to cost?

"It makes me wonder where the rest of my council tax money went while I was living there."

Chiltern District Council spokesman Viv Saunders said: "We sincerely regret any concern this matter may have caused Ms Madams and are pleased the money has now been paid and the matter resolved.

"A check of our records shows that both we and Ms Madams acted in good faith, and that any confusion was purely down to timing issues. When Ms Madams called to see if she owed any council tax, we had reason to believe she did not. However, it would appear she had already cancelled her direct debit and as a result her final due payment was not made, leaving a balance owing to us of £14.04.

"This only became apparent the day after Ms Madams’ call to us. A bill was sent to her forwarding address in early September, followed by a reminder in November. As we received no response to these requests, we had no option but to proceed in the usual way to recoup the outstanding debt.

"We accept this was an unintentional misunderstanding and had our officers known the direct debit had been cancelled at the time of Ms Madams’s initial call, she would have been given different information."

Comments (5)

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3:54pm Sun 5 Jan 14

tigeran says...

The council is useless at what seems to be everything. You only need to see the fiasco going on with rubbish collections! I for one am totally despondent with them and if it wasn't for the fact that you can get a heavy fine and imprisonment for not paying the council tax, I wouldn't bother. I have never known a service you pay for, where you have no say whatsoever about the service you actually get and CANNOT refuse to pay due to (in this case, constant) bad service! It's is despicable!
The council is useless at what seems to be everything. You only need to see the fiasco going on with rubbish collections! I for one am totally despondent with them and if it wasn't for the fact that you can get a heavy fine and imprisonment for not paying the council tax, I wouldn't bother. I have never known a service you pay for, where you have no say whatsoever about the service you actually get and CANNOT refuse to pay due to (in this case, constant) bad service! It's is despicable! tigeran
  • Score: 22

5:59pm Sun 5 Jan 14

JustJus says...

I'm not paying my council tax until they sort the rubbish collection!
I'm not paying my council tax until they sort the rubbish collection! JustJus
  • Score: 17

2:13pm Mon 6 Jan 14

I know who I am says...

The council are far too quick to send this sort of letter out. Pity they weren't as quick to sort other problems out
The council are far too quick to send this sort of letter out. Pity they weren't as quick to sort other problems out I know who I am
  • Score: 7

3:36pm Mon 6 Jan 14

ArnyP_HW says...

Right up there with the letter they sent me on Xmas eve saying I owe them £600 which will be taken via Direct Debit over Jan and Feb.

Turns out they didn't ask the correct questions when I spoke to them in the Summer and now I'm misleading them!

Turns out they only need to reclaim £60, a fact which they said I will receive via a revised letter had I waited till the New Year!

So no harm done then eh? ( ! )

Lucky I'm not an 80 something pensioner too scared to go down to the offices and state my case.
Right up there with the letter they sent me on Xmas eve saying I owe them £600 which will be taken via Direct Debit over Jan and Feb. Turns out they didn't ask the correct questions when I spoke to them in the Summer and now I'm misleading them! Turns out they only need to reclaim £60, a fact which they said I will receive via a revised letter had I waited till the New Year! So no harm done then eh? ( ! ) Lucky I'm not an 80 something pensioner too scared to go down to the offices and state my case. ArnyP_HW
  • Score: 2

3:58pm Mon 6 Jan 14

J B Blackett says...

This type of incident is what remote impersonal organisations do. It is not malicious or deliberate - it usually just through thoughtlessness or carelessness
.
There would appear to be no cure for it , especially in the pubic or private service sectors - but lessons (?) will be learned (they always say)
.
In the meantime it does cause unnecessary distress to all sorts of folk
This type of incident is what remote impersonal organisations do. It is not malicious or deliberate - it usually just through thoughtlessness or carelessness . There would appear to be no cure for it , especially in the pubic or private service sectors - but lessons (?) will be learned (they always say) . In the meantime it does cause unnecessary distress to all sorts of folk J B Blackett
  • Score: 3

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