Today I got a reminder from Bristol City Council for Council Tax arrears. It claims that I owe them £71.85, and if I don’t pay within a week, I have to pay the whole whack outstanding for the year – £309. And if I don’t pay that within a further week, it’s back to court, with £103 costs loaded on top.
Seeing as I’ve already had to go to court over Council Tax, I’d rather not go through the whole rigmarole again. That time it was because they fucked up the Direct Debits and took two full monthly payments out within a week, throwing out my budget and costing me money. I cancelled the DD because there was every likelihood the numbskulls would try and take another payment from me and impoverish me yet further. Doing that earned me a place before three self-important JPs with faces like slapped arses and not a little supercilious air about them. Apparently my being poor meant that I had no right to be articulate, or else my articulateness meant I had no right to be poor. They were a little muddled on that finer point of jurisprudence (not case law I had ever encountered before, I must confess), but they composed themselves enough to tie me into some ridiculously inflated payment plan which consigned me to the cheaper brands of biscuits for many months.
Anyway, this time round I got right onto the council straight away to try and sort things out. As far as I know, I’ve paid the right amount or more every month this year; the right amount involved odd pennies, so I tend to round up to the nearest £5. That way I’m never in arrears. How sensible! Well, perhaps not.
I ring up Local Taxation on 0117 925 0981. I negotiate the menu system. I learn that there are long queues, and opt for an automated callback (estimated to be a wait of between 20 and 32 minutes). A mere 38 minutes later, the phone rings, and I am back in the system. Only another two minutes of robot voices, and I am connected to a real person. Her name is Lucy. She sounds weary, but is polite. I explain my concern over the letter. I give her my account number. She checks. “Yes, it does seem that you have paid for this month.” But what about the arrears it says I owe? It’s such a strange amount, especially as I should be in credit. “Well, because you pay more than you should, the system gets confused, and misallocates the money. If you pay the exact amount in future, there won’t be a problem. But if you pay more, just phone us to let us know and we can make sure the system knows that you are all paid up.”
Bristol City Council – Beacon Authority.