|Hounslow Council Wrongly Targets 86-year old Over Fraud
Name mix-up to blame for distress caused to Chiswick widow
Officials wrongly targeted an 86-year-old Chiswick widow on suspicion of Council Tax fraud.
An error by the company Liberata - which manages Revenue and Benefits on behalf of Hounslow Council-led to Patricia Davies being told she was under investigation.
Mrs Davies receives Single Person Discount on her Council Tax because she lives alone in Chiswick.
However investigators working on the Council's behalf wrote saying they believed there were others sharing the property.
To make matters worse the envelope containing the letter to Mrs Davies was marked with the word ' Fraud' three times.
Mrs Davies,whose first name is Ethel but who is known as Pat or Patricia, was told they were carrying out an annual review of all customers in receipt of Single Persons Discount(SPD). Checks of Council records held had "given us reason to believe that there may be other adults living at your address", the letter stated.
Pat Davies told ChiswickW4.com that she felt "threatened and baffled” by the wording used in the letter. She said another friend of her, also living alone, had received a similar letter suggesting she might not qualify for the discount. The letter added that it would “save time” if they could provide evidence by return with the form.
"On the basis of our law that a person is innocent until proven guilty, they might use an envelope which does not mention fraud three times with a threat of penalties", she commented.
Her case was taken up by Councillor Paul Lynch (Conservative) who said he had tabled a question for the next council meeting on January 31st. He was concerned that other elderly people in the Borough might have received similar letters and might be upset.
"I'm all in favour of people being investigated for fraud but this was clumsy and inept. I will be asking if the worry caused to these elderly individuals is worth it for the amount of fraud they will detect”, he said.
Mrs. Davies wrote to Hounslow Council making a Freedom of Information Act request to discover what evidence they had to suggest she was not living alone.
The evidence referred to in the letter from Liberata turned out to be a phone directory entry in the name of Patricia Davies which matched her address. But her name on the Council system was listed as 'Ethel',hence the confusion. She also sometimes uses the initials E.P.or E. Patricia Davies.
"A simple phone call would have sorted this matter out without all this fuss" she commented.
The Assistant Head of Revenues and Benefits, Harminder Persad has written to Mrs. Davies to apologise for any distress caused.
However the Council had a responsibility to ensure that discounts and exemptions on council tax liability were being applied correctly and this could only be done by carrying out regular reviews, according to the letter.
A statement from Hounslow Borough Council said: "We are currently carrying out our annual review on all our customers in receipt of Single Person Discount and exemptions on their council tax liability.
"Our intention is never to distress our residents, but to check the records we hold are correct. We do have to ensure that the correct discounts and exemptions are being applied; to do this we use an external data matching agency that match records with our data base and any differences are picked up and letters are sent to customers.
"Some of the data matching is against details held in the BT telephone directory and unfortunately if different names have been used in the directory this will be picked up in the data match."
The wording on the envelopes is:
January 20, 2012