Tuesday, December 06, 2011

No one listens

A "blinkered and aggressive" local authority spent £200,000 chasing a schizophrenic pensioner over an unpaid council tax bill after "ignoring" the fact he was mentally ill, reports the Daily Mail.

The Nottinghamshire local authority, Gedling Borough Council, splashed out £50,000 in legal costs alone pursuing vulnerable Trevor Evans for a bankruptcy order over the unpaid bill of less than £2,000. It wrongly ignored the fact Mr Evans, 80, was schizophrenic and has dementia in chasing him over the payment, a judge has ruled.

Gedling will now have to pay trustee fees of £70,000 and pay Mr Evans's legal costs, which solicitors estimate will amount to a further £80,000 – bringing the total "to an astonishing £200,000 - more than a hundred times what Mr Evans owed in council tax".

A council spokesman said: "At that time, the council was not aware of any issues surrounding Mr Evans's mental health, and if it had been made aware of these issues, it is unlikely that the action would have been pursued".

And this is what screams out at you. This is supposedly local government, where supposedly, government is close to the people. Yet this case was allowed to progress all the way through the system and no one picked up the fact that they were chasing someone who clearly was not able to cope.

No one, at any time, asked the right questions. No one checked. The system went into automatic, and the power of the local authority was brought to bear. No one knew but – more likely – no one cared.

And this is local government all over. Gedling is not a particularly big authority – with just over 48,000 households. But it is local in name only. The taxpayers are just numbers on a sheet, the milche cow that keeps the system running.

In any humane, responsive system, someone should have known – or there would have been a facility for the right people to have found out. But the trouble with government these days, as with the TPA in our previous piece, is that communication is one-way. They speak – we listen. There is no provision for it to work the other way.

And so it is with most corporates. Take Amazon, for instance. It offers brilliant service – when it works. But when it goes wrong and you want to contact it ... forget it. Cannon cameras … smashing bits of kit – until they go wrong. And then you are talking to the wall.

Of course, we get all the BS about "customer care" – but the more they protest, the less they tend to deliver. And the worst of it all is that, in the Gedling case, the tax of over 200 people was wasted – people who would have gone to jail had they refused to pay.

But will anyone lose their jobs? Will anyone even be disciplined? They screw up and we pay – all because no one listens, because no one is capable of listening any more.