Government watchdog criticises Sutton Council for bailiff blunder
Bungling council officers have been criticised by a Government watchdog for sending bailiffs to a woman’s house because they had failed to update her direct debit details.
Laura Hudak, 43, was accused of dodging council tax, when her payment was missed in August last year.
The money was not transferred because Sutton Council had not updated her bank details, despite Ms Hudak making them aware of the change in July 2013.
Following an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), the council has been criticised for not informing her bailiffs were coming round.
When a bailiff visited her property in The Broadway in Cheam they applied excessive fees not applicable to her case, racking up hundreds of pounds in bills.
Council response: Ms Hudak with the reply to her complaint
Ms Hudak, a self-employed antique dealer, said: "The whole situation was upsetting and distressing.
"The council’s behaviour is disgusting, and the bailiff’s conduct was really out of order.
"If they have done this to me, they could be doing it to loads of other people as well."
Ms Hudak has a track record for failing to pay council tax, which has seen her account go into arrears.
Ms Hudak, 43, complained to the LGO in February, and the investigator provided their provisional view on May 15.
The ombudsman’s report has been sent to Ms Hudak and the council to consider, and the body’s final decision is expected on June 30.
In the investigation they conclude the council failed to update Ms Hudak’s direct debit details, and are still responsible for the bailiff’s actions despite referring the role to debt collectors.
The council has also been criticised for failing to notify Ms Hudak she would be visited by bailiffs and letting her know direct debit details she had provided were incorrect.
A Sutton Council spokesperson said: "The council has apologised to Ms Hudak that it failed to set up a new direct debit when advised of her change of bank account.
"However, she was already in significant arrears at the time the direct debit was received.
“The council does not allow bailiffs to charge excessive fees and when this matter was brought to its attention, we immediately contacted the bailiffs and requested the case be returned.
"This was an isolated incident that was corrected at the earliest opportunity."
The LGO has recommended Sutton Council pay £150 compensation, and check all complaints about bailiff fees made in the last 12 months.
The investigator indicated the injustice has been part-remedied by the council removing the bailiff charges.
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