Was pretty appalled last week when I received one of those dreaded pink REMINDER letters through the post from our local council tax offices. I pay the fee by cheque every month without fail so I kind of guessed something had gone wrong, especially when I double checked the cheque book to confirm I hadn't had one of those frequent middle-aged moments. Yes, there it was, made out to Northumberland County Council on 4th November and subsequently posted that same day. However, three weeks later the brown envelope arrives with a particularly threatening letter telling me if I don't pay within 7 days I'll be taken to court and will have to pay the full amount outstanding, which is around £650. Considering we are in Band F and our fees are almost £2,200 per annum, we choose to pay monthly.
So there I was, rummaging through invoices and cheque stubs in order to prove to the council that I had paid this month's council tax. I rang the office and spoke to a lady who was, admittedly, helpful, and promised to ring me back as soon as she had been able to confirm they either had or hadn't received the cheque. One thing the lady did ask was had it shown up on our bank statement as being cashed. As the bank statement it would have appeared on is currently with my accountant, I decided to ring the bank and check with them.
No. The cheque hadn't been cashed. Strange, I thought. The bank suggested it could have been lost in the post, though I knew all the other cheques I'd sent that day had been received and cashed because the bank confirmed that, too.
A few minutes later the lady from the council rang me back. I am still gobsmacked at what she told me.
"Your cheque was received on the 5th November but it hasn't been cashed yet."
I was under the impression local councils were under immense pressure to make severe cuts which means they need all the money they can get. So why was my cheque sitting on someone's desk three weeks after I'd sent it? I'm afraid to say I gave the nice lady a piece of my mind. How dare they send out REMINDER letters to people, scaring them to 'pay within 7 days or be taken to court' when they have uncashed cheques lying around. A council that is obsessed with saving money. A council that, not long ago spent £80,000 on an office refurbishment for an executive. I imagine many people don't bother paying their council tax at all, and some get it paid for them. What do they do when they receive the pink REMINDER notice? Do they panic? Do they trawl through cheque stubs and invoices, make phones calls to banks, worry about the prospect of appearing before a Magistrate?
I'll leave that one with you.
The word "incompetence" springs to mind. As well as several others.