Human error behind Wellingborough council tax issue as leaders pledge to repay all those hit in the pocket

Payments are being taken today, four days before they were due to come out

Thursday, 28th October 2021, 11:22 am
Updated Thursday, 28th October 2021, 11:24 am
Top left: Cllr Martin Griffiths, bottom left Cllr Jean Addison, right Cllr Lloyd Bunday

North Northamptonshire Council has pledged to refund everybody who faces bank charges or late payment charges as a result of an error that means council tax will be taken from Wellingborough residents four days early.

It came just two days after 800 Corby council tax payers were erroneously sent court summonses over 'unpaid' council tax bills - which had in fact been paid. The authority says the two incidents were unconnected.

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Former leader of Wellingborough Council Martin Griffiths, who now sits as an independent in the Irchester Ward after leaving the Conservative party earlier this year, this morning blasted the authority's leaders over the errors.

He said: "This is an appalling situation and although we have lost experienced officers, I can not blame those in their roles now and nor do I accept criticism of the computer system being used as a near identical version is working successfully in the West from what I can see.

"How are residents supposed to have fiscal confidence in the new council if the new authority can’t get the council bills right? It’s pretty basic accounting when all is said and done.

"The new leader (who interestingly had never led a council and was only elected in 2017) and his deputy, cast aside all the experience that had worked for years on the program for unitary and promoted councillors to the cabinet without the experience of leadership.

"Council leaders of successful sovereign councils with vast experience were culled in favour of a new team and the cracks are now starting to show.

"This is one of the largest councils in the country. It is not a social club or a corner shop.

"The Conservative administration needs to get a grip, and quickly, as there are examples in other parts of the country where councils never recover from such a disastrous start as this."

Councillor Lloyd Bunday, who is the authority's executive member for finance and transformation, reiterated the council's apology this morning (Thursday) and said he believed a BACS error was to blame.

He said: "I am still waiting to hear exactly what happened but it looks like the BACS reference that has been sent to the bank erroneously had today's date on it instead of Monday.

"The finance department are working their socks off at the moment. We are in the middle of disaggregating Northamptonshire County Council and aggregating the parts of four old sovereign councils.

"There is a procurement item coming to the executive later on this month to procure a new revenue and benefits system but you push the button on that and it's not going to be in place for another year. It takes a long time to put four councils together. Our people are 100 per cent committed to getting it right but Rome wasn't built in a day.

"We will recompense anybody who has legitimate claims and that's something we'll look at on an individual basis.

"A lot of people are paid monthly and their wages are normally processed on the last Thursday of the month so we hope that it won't be a major problem for most people.

"But a problem for one is a problem for one too many.

"We are entering the budget stages and that's what we should be concentrating on. Legacy issues, we have got to manage and get over, and and let's hope there aren't too many in the future."

Many people took to social media to voice their discontent over the issue which it is believed has affected thousands of households. One local man said: "This is why we don't set up Direct Debit, we pay them when we feel like it..... like them emptying our wheelie bins when they feel like it."

Another said: "Imagine paying your council tax four days late .. the letters will be flying to your door step with threats."

On Monday, leader of the opposition Councillor Jean Addison (Lab) called for an investigation in to the mess caused by the council tax issues in Corby. This morning she again called for an investigation and said that she would be raising the issues during a meeting with Chief Executive Rob Bridge this afternoon.

"We're very, very disappointed and we have challenged and asked questions of the director of finance on the first issue earlier this week and now we'll be challenging them again.

"People are under enough pressure. The cost of living is going up, many have lost the universal credit uplift, and this is going to put people under more pressure.

"I will seek to ensure they make up the costs that people incur."

Anybody who is having issues caused by the council error should visit the dedicated web page to reclaim any bank charges.