Apology for disabled man after council tax form ‘shambles’

PUBLISHED: 11:00 29 February 2016

Ken Westcott at his home.

Ken Westcott at his home.

Archant

North Somerset Council has apologised after a disabled man was faced with losing an important benefit due to problems with the authority’s online services.

Ken Wescott, aged 72, suffered a stroke three years ago and was left disabled down his right-hand side.

His disability means he uses a wheelchair, is unable to write and has had a stair lift and walk-in shower room installed at his home in Claverham.

Mr Wescott has received a reduction in his council tax since his stroke but was sent a letter from the council last month, asking him to update his circumstances using the council’s online Council Connect service, which is responsible for managing council tax enquiries.

The letter warned Mr Wescott that he faced losing his benefit if the council did not receive his response within 21 days.

However, Mr Wescott claimed he was unable to use the Council Connect service because the website would not accept his password details, despite them being correct – and was instead told by a council employee to post a hand-written response to the authority, after finding the letter contained no contact details for anyone at the council.

The council has since apologised and has promised to include a return address on future council tax reduction forms.

Mr Wescott said: “The e-account for this is impossible and a shambles.

“I had a letter from the council on January 13. The letter had no telephone number or a name (but) it said please reply within 21 days otherwise my reduction may be removed.

“There are big problems with the website. It asks you a lot of security questions – I understand that is necessary and do it frequently.

“But each time it would not let me in (and) there was no option to change my password.

“Eventually my granddaughter tried and said it just does not let you in.

“I tried to speak to someone about it and I got a response from them and they suggested replying by hand. I got my wife to write on the back of the letter and send if off.

“It is really awful. It is just a minefield and for (other) people who are disabled, I do not know how they cope with it.”

A spokesman for the council said: “We’re sorry to hear about the distress and worry Mr Wescott’s experience of our system has caused him.

“Customers are able to manage their accounts online and we actively encourage them to do so.

“However, not all council tax enquiries can be completed this way and banding reduction reviews are one of the transactions that can’t.

“We appreciate that not all customers can use the online service and we do have alternative solutions in place.

“This can range from signposting customers to libraries to use their public computers to arranging a home visit to collect the information required.

“We also have staff in the Town Hall to assist customers using the online services and call centre staff who can provide assistance over the telephone.

“Mr Wescott’s wife has now completed and returned the review form so the entitlement to the disabled banding reduction will continue.

“Future review forms will also include a return address on them.”

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