Thanet Star

(Un)Happy Christmas wishes from TDC

It seems that the council have been up to their usual inelegant customer care ways again.


Thanet Star has, via a few different sources, heard tell of the council mailing out a lot of families in the run up to Christmas to say by the way you've been owing us money and we've been letting that debt build up without saying anything. Here's a nice Christmas surprise of a massive bill.

Quite why any organisation that needs to collect money (Council tax and Rent in the case of Thanet District Council) from clients would not send out monthly account statements is beyond me but it seems that despite some pretty confusing changes in terms of benefit reductions (aka The Bedroom Tax), and other changes Thanet District have seen fit to not let people know that they need to start coughing up more money. Then as the most expensive time of year comes round they drop a bombshell on families.

One angry mum wrote to us and said:

I would like to know why they allow money owed to get to over 200 before sending out letters? and why their system doesn't flag an account that's going unpaid before it gets that high?

So many people I know, including myself, have received letters in the last few months saying that 200 plus is owed for the period blahblahblah and it needs to be paid by x date. I think it's disgusting that they can do that and worry so many people at this time of year. Many families are already struggling with bedroom tax and stuff, and then to get those letters saying the council want more is unfair, horrible and stressful!

When it comes to arrears brought on by the bedroom tax the council has promised to ...not to take legal action against tenants impacted by the [Bedroom Tax] policy for non-payment of their rent, unless they decline two offers of alternative accommodation. Of course they say nothing about the offers being reasonable or suitable but that's politics for you folks.

Homeless Rough Sleeper

Green councillor Ian Driver tells that In Thanet 610 households have lost on average 770 per year in Housing Benefits. which leaves vulnerable families hurting to the tune of just less than five hundred thousand pounds for not moving into smaller properties that don't exist. We might as well fine people for not praying to the Invisible Pink Unicorn or worshiping the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all the sense the Bedroom Tax makes for moving people on in Thanet.

The simple fact is that under-occupied properties are over-expensive to heat and I am pretty darn sure that a lot of families would like a more compact cheaper to heat living space if only someone would get on and build them. We've got some nice green farm land we could use. After all who needs to eat so long as no homes have empty rooms, right?

While it is clear that the council have not let the six hundred plus households know that the sudden and unwelcome choice this Christmas is not between presents for the children or living in a home the truth is that there is some hope this year. The best advice we have been able to find suggests that if you are one of the people suddenly finding yourself slapped with a request for a Christmas (un)bonus to contact the council and discuss your options.

These options include applying for help from the discretionary housing fund which you can ask to be backdated if you are eligible. If you are not eligible for a discretionary payment then the recommendation is that you arrange a schedule of payments that will slowly reduce the amount you owe if only by few pounds a week.

For further help you should contact the Citizens Advice Bureau.

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Public Comments

This Unhelpful Hidden comment was left by Peter Checksfield [score: -2]:

30/11/2013 12:53:58

This Insightful Golden comment was left by James TC [score: 4]:

BT, Virgin, British Gas, Adobe, EON, Southern Water and pretty much every letting agency sends quarterly or monthly statements and makes a HUGE profit for shareholders and investors. Try missing a broadband payment and see how long before your provider calls you up and says you owe them twelve quid. Why should TDC be any different?
30/11/2013 13:04:33

This Normal comment was left by Peter Checksfield [score: 0]:

I agree with that last bit. TDC should've taken away their services. They'd soon pay up if their rubbish isn't collected.
30/11/2013 13:07:31

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

I am reminded why I banned you from the Facebook page for Thanet Star, Peter. Honestly, are you really advocating that the council kick people out if the rent slips behind when a change in benefit that they have not been told about was the cause. Good gods, man! I am so glad that you will never run this country.
30/11/2013 13:34:26

This Insulting Hidden comment was left by Peter Checksfield [score: -4]:

30/11/2013 13:42:21

This Insightful Golden comment was left by Arn [score: 4]:

I think the main thing I have learnt from this article is the fact that the Council has failed to inform the Residents of the increase in council tax due to the 'Bedroom Tax' (Which I regard as 'Get people evicted/living with bare essentials' tax).
This is in no way the Resident's fault, as stated TDC didn't bother informing them of the increase, and are now sending threatening letters demanding money that they hadn't asked for previously (probably due to mis-calculations when they sent out the council tax working-out letters at the start of the financial year).
So I think Peter is probably grasping the wrong end of the stick, possibly because he didn't read or understand the article fully... (please note, not calling names, just saying what I think might have happened...)
This goes hand-in-hand with the recent BBC news article about TDC being Underhand and Secretive, and gotta say the evidence is there... why do we put up with it?
Or, to put it another way, why do the same idiots keep their jobs when they have demonstrated that a blind hedgehog in a brown paper bag could do better, AND be more empathic at the same time...!
We, Locally, and Nationally, seem to be stuck in this self-perpetuating slave mill, where we can only 'vote' the most popular slave-drivers back into the hot-seat... Ask anyone off the street "Do you think you are free?" they will reply "Yes, of course!" but then ask "What do you do all day, every day?" and you will most certainly get a similar reply from everybody - either work, or look for work. Try and do any different, and punishment is there... not going to list these 'punishments' because they are different in every case, but any time someone has to go without something because they can only afford tax and food, or tax and electric, or tax and gas for heating... you get the idea!
30/11/2013 13:56:38

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

Amen to that, Arn.

We need to see some change for a change.
30/11/2013 14:02:50

This Normal comment was left by Peter Checksfield [score: 0]:

Everyone got letters when their housing and council tax benenit changed. I know I did.

Whether or not TDC are underhand and secretive is an entirely different debate. But from the lowly administrative side I find them generally excellent. I'll give you an example: one of our communal dustbins went missing a few days ago, so I emailed TDC. Within a hour I got a polite reply telling me that I'd emailed the wrong department but that they'd forwarded it to the correct department. The next day we got a new bin. Now, I used to live in Herne Bay where we were under Canterbury City Council, and there's no way we had such a good service as this there. So credit where it's due.
30/11/2013 14:07:25

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

I am sure that there are some departments that are doing very well. On the other hand the one in question is doing the exact opposite.
30/11/2013 14:10:54

This Bland Hidden comment was left by Peter Checksfield [score: -1]:

30/11/2013 14:11:25

This Informative Normal comment was left by Laura [score: 3]:

My family and I moved into a 3 bed house in march that the council agreed we needed because of our eldest's medical problems. They received the relevent paperwork all the way through the system for everything they wanted to know. At NO POINT were we told that we would need to pay bedroom tax or council tax. We got a bill six months after we'd moved in stating that we hadn't been paying it and that we owed 260 plus in arrears that we had no idea was building up. How is it our fault? and how are we supposed to keep track of what we are paying if we aren't aware we should be paying anything?! We now face payingvout 34 a week JUST to the council to pay off debts that we should'nt owe in the first place. Tell me how that's right??
30/11/2013 14:25:13

This Helpful Normal comment was left by Laura [score: 2]:

My point is that TDC leave unpaid accounts to get over the 100 mark before sending u a bill. BT, TalkTalk, Sky and the like jump on your unpaid account if you miss one payment, not 6 months worth!
30/11/2013 14:31:13

This Off Topic Hidden comment was left by David [score: -3]:

30/11/2013 15:04:35

This Helpful Normal comment was left by Ian Driver [score: 2]:

I am a Thanet District Councillor and couldn't agree with more with some of the comments made here. If you are living on a tight budget which many of us are, then you need to know straight away if you are likely to owe money. Letting it build up without timely reminders is only going to force people into debt hardship.
Letting people run up debt without reminders, then asking for large arrears to be by repaid at exactly the same time that energy prices are going through the roof, with a predicted cold winter and Xmas just round the corner is utter madness.
Is it any wonder that people think Thanet Council is dysfunctional and not fit purpose
Ian Driver
30/11/2013 16:30:23

This Insightful Golden comment was left by Ann Adley [score: 4]:

This has always been the norm for TDC and has been happening for years.
I have family who have turned to me for help many times when they have suddenly received an arrears bill that they were totally unaware of and usually found to have been accrued by a previous miscalculation by the Benefits department.
As previously said accounts that go into arrears should be flagged each month and claimants should be informed immediately,debts should not be allowed to build up over months until some notification is given,this merely makes the debt more difficult to recover and causes unnecessary stress to those who suddenly find themselves in trouble.
30/11/2013 17:41:53

This Unhelpful Hidden comment was left by David [score: -2]:

30/11/2013 18:23:09

This Normal comment was left by Paul Ask [score: 0]:

Peter, you always have so much crap to say, where do you find the time?
30/11/2013 19:52:14

This Off Topic Hidden comment was left by David [score: -3]:

30/11/2013 20:02:24

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

From what I read Ian was not suggesting that every client be written to every month (We've got things like paperless billing for that). But he did say (and I agree with him on this) debts need to be flagged early if only because it makes them ten times easier to collect and just as easy to pay.
30/11/2013 20:09:07

This Insightful Golden comment was left by Geoff Barnes [score: 4]:

Sorry Peter, but I think you are missing out on one vital issue here; literacy and numeracy! It is a sad fact (and in my mind, an inexcusable failing of the various education systems we've had) but there are many people who do not understand things like council tax and bills, etc, because they do not find it easy to cope with numbers and are also unaware of 'everyday' items like council tax, bills and the like.

Even for those perfectly comfortable with maths and budgeting, there often comes a time (particularly when money worries are seemingly overwhelming) when people just want to retreat from it all and things like letters from the council talking about increases can be easily missed. As others have said, the council should send reminders to such people in a timely fashion, rather than waiting until the worst possible time of the year to send letters demanding payment.

They don't even need to waste any money doing it - most councils use automated systems for sending out letters anyway, so it's almost certainly a matter of just choosing the time between reminders being sent.
30/11/2013 20:51:18

This Insightful Golden comment was left by Rosemary [score: 4]:

If TDC failed to send a letter out to any one on benefit in April telling them that they would need to pay the "bedroom tax", they are indeed at fault. The chief blogger himself did receive such a letter, plus notification in the early days of going to arrears through not putting additional payments into place. However, what, it seems to me, that the Council DO do is to leave the arrears, after the initial notification, to build up for quite some time before they contact you again. I can see how it would be very easy to have received initial notification and done nothing about it (maybe because the person concerned had no idea how they could make those payments), allowing it to slip and then being lulled into a false sense of security because TDC did not chase them for a long period. It may be that that is what actually happened in some of these cases.

However, what has not happened, which has made the matter worse, is that very little has been said about a fund called Discretionary Housing Benefit, which those affected by the "bedroom tax" could have applied for (had they known about it). An applicant for this has to justify what they have done to move to a smaller property (or why they have not done anything about downsizing) but providing they can do this, people stand a good chance of being granted the benefit. It is intended to be short term (a few months) but you can reapply when your granted term runs out. Some of us only found out about this because of seeing mentions on Facebook and I imagine that a fair few people who needed this still know nothing about it.
30/11/2013 23:16:07

This Unhelpful Hidden comment was left by Peter Checksfield [score: -2]:

01/12/2013 10:38:27

This Off Topic Hidden comment was left by Peter Checksfield [score: -3]:

01/12/2013 15:35:03

This Normal comment was left by Solo Gays [score: 0]:

I like the way you grade the comments Matt. If you are not in a particularly happy place at the moment, and you have someone prepared to raise issues you are concerned about, then the last thing you want to hear is sarcastic put-downs. Nevertheless those comments you hide may sometimes contain some element of truth, so it is good people can still access them if they choose to.
01/12/2013 18:46:11

This Insulting Hidden comment was left by Way Better :) [score: -4]:

02/12/2013 04:41:50

This Off Topic Hidden comment was left by Peter Checksfield [score: -3]:

02/12/2013 08:09:04

This Insulting Hidden comment was left by Way Better :) [score: -4]:

03/12/2013 18:56:27

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

Solo, thank you for the feedback. It's not just me that rates the comments but anyone with a user account. The comments are visible but require a double click to unhide them.

Back on topic I'd like to thank Geoff and Rosemary (my mum) for some great on topic and insightful comments.
05/12/2013 18:24:09

This Helpful Normal comment was left by Lewis Pindar [score: 2]:

I think it is obsurd and unfair that any council should treat it;s service users in such a way. If we are to pay our taxes, at least keep up their end of the bargain by of course delivering their services and keeping us informed of the costs. For those who have been struck with an unfriendly bill demanding large sums of money they cannot afford, especially at this time of year it is not only negligent but completely against what the council is supposed to do which is help the community.
19/12/2013 02:43:29

This Normal comment was left by Matt B [score: 0]:

I agree Lewis, the local council needs to urgently revise it's ideas.
19/12/2013 21:11:54
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