Friday, 6 November 2009

You know who I blame?

Him Indoors and I have a long standing joke. Whenever one of us starts to complain about something, whether it’s work, the internet not working, the weather, the price of beans, the other invariably answers,
“You know who I blame? The council!”
This is mainly because we both work in the public sector and, dealing with Joe public on a day to day basis have heard these words more times than we can remember. We do this in jest, as many people in this city (and in the UK as a whole no doubt) like nothing more than to point the finger of blame at anyone other than themselves.
However, I am beginning to think they have a point.
A couple of months ago I received a council tax bill. Nothing unusual there, but this one showed that I was in arrears of nearly £1,500. How had I managed to get into such arrears you may ask? Because the council didn’t send me a council tax bill last year. Despite me contacting them on several occasions, they had failed to register the flat for council tax.
Being a sensible type (to some degree) I had put aside money every month to pay the bill which I knew would inevitably arrive. When the bill arrived, Him Indoors suggested we ask if we can pay it off over 6 months, rather than having to take a huge chunk of money out of our savings account. I phoned up the council and asked if this was possible. No problemo! They replied. So I made my first payment and left it at that.
A couple of weeks later I received another letter from the council telling me that if I did not pay the outstanding balance I would be summoned to court! Outraged, I phoned them, guns blazing.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. You will be summoned but the court will see that you have made an arrangement and it will be dismissed without you having to pay court costs.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, it’s fine, I’ll make a note that you called and just call again when you receive the summons and it will be noted again what you have been advised.”
So, I left it at that. Until the summons arrived, and I realised that rather than being sent to the county court, it was to be listed at the court in the building where I worked.
It took about an hour for Him Indoors to talk me down from my high orbit, and funnily enough he didn’t use our usual quip for a little while afterwards. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be sent to the court where I worked. I was fuming. I would have to explain to my boss why my name was on the list. And any of my colleagues or clients could see my name there. It didn’t bear thinking about.
A couple of days later I called the council to explain my predicament and to ask if it could be dealt with at another court. The man I spoke to understood my concern straight away.
“I’ll see if I can get the summons removed.” he said before disappearing, leaving me on hold listening to a decidedly scratchy version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. About twenty minutes later he returned, apologising for leaving me on hold for so long. He explained to me that he had managed to get the summons removed as long as I paid the balance off now or set up a direct debit.
“I know you have been paying it off monthly by debit card, which is good,” he explained, cautiously trying to appease me, “but the imbeciles next door won’t remove the summons unless you set up a direct debit.”
I was quite taken aback by his frankness and agreed to the direct debit, thanking him for sorting it out.
“That’s fine. If the person you had spoken to in the first place had explained you would have got a summons if you paid by debit card rather than direct debit, this wouldn’t have happened!”
He had a point. Of course I would have set up a direct debit if I had known I would be summoned to the court in the same building that I work. I asked about the complaints procedure. He happily gave the phone number to me.
“I would not normally encourage people to complain, but this situation is ridiculous.” he admitted.
I agree. It is ridiculous. If I had been fully informed in the first place I would have taken action to ensure I would never be summoned to court. But I think what really annoys me is that the person who had told me not to worry about the court summons had clearly not been bothered to fully explain the situation and to try and resolve the issue. I have no doubt that if I had spoken to the same person today, I would have been told sorry love, but you just have to suck it up. If people just did their jobs properly, it would make the lives of everyone so much easier. If people could only be bothered. Is it a London thing? I don’t know. But I know who I blame.

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