Council blunder plunges residents into the red

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By Cara Sulieman

A COUNCIL cock-up left many residents out of pocket when their tax payment was taken out of their bank account two days early.

Edinburgh City Council said that they are investigating the blunder, which saw more than 5,000 people who pay by direct debit affected by the “administrative error”.

Today (Mon) was pay day for many residents in the city meaning the extra bill – which was taken out on Friday – would have plunged them into the red and left them hit with banking fees.

A letter apologising for the mistake has been sent out, and the local authority have vowed to pay any charges that residents incur.

“Lucky”

But councillors are worried that the blunder will put people off paying by direct debit, which they are trying to encourage.

One resident, who asked not to be named, only just managed to pay her bill this month and blasted the council for their error.

She said: “If this was any other month, this would have caused huge problems for me, and it was just lucky that I had the money to cover this payment in my account.

“I was stunned when I realised the money had been taken out early, but the people I spoke to at the council seemed to shrug it off and said they would pay any bank charges.”

And another resident received a letter from the council today (Mon) morning to say that her tax was also mistakenly taken early.

Not being able to check her account online, Heather Rutherford is now worried that she will be overdrawn and furious at the council’s response.

“Furious”

Heather Rutherford, said: “I got a letter from the council that said ‘due to an administrative error the February payment was collected from the bank account two working days early’.

“It does say in the letter ‘if bank charges are incurred as a result of this action please send confirmation and we will arrange a refund’.

“But this has to be in writing with a copy of the bank statement showing the charge or a copy of the charge notification from the bank, so this would then take a further three to four weeks.

“I’m furious. I’m not sure if I’ve enough money to cover this coming out but I guess I’m luckier than some as I have a job and my parents to call on if necessary.”

From April, the council will stop accepting cheques, and standing orders in an attempt to persuade all residents to pay by direct debit, which is cheaper to process.

“Worrying”

Conservative Councillor Cameron Rose, finance spokesman, said: “It is worrying for such a mistake to happen at a time when the council is trying to encourage more people in the city to move over to direct debit.

“Council tax collection is a very big operation, but this is a regrettable mistake. I have been told the council has sent out letters of apology, and that a formal investigation is ongoing.”

And Councillor Phil Wheeler, convener for the finance and resources committee, confirmed that they were investigating the mix-up.

He said: “This is an extremely unfortunate administrative error and I would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.

“The council sent everyone affected a letter, which explains how to claim back bank charges resulting directly from this error.

“The council will fully reimburse all legitimate claims.

“As soon as council officers became aware of the situation measures were put in place to prevent a reoccurrence and an investigation has begun.”

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