Tenant's despair over bill for council tax on mouldy flat
Matthew Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: LDRS
A Welwyn Hatfield tenant is being taken to court after being hit with a £700 bill for unpaid council tax on a home he moved out of while it undergoes repairs.
Brian Canning, from Welwyn Garden City, said he feels “bullied” by WHBC after being threatened with legal action for the unpaid bill after 10 months of disruption.
The council said it is working to resolve the issues with his property, but say it is following the necessary steps under council tax legislation.
Mr Canning has been living with his elderly parents since April while repairs to the council flat are undertaken, but still doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return and claims he’ll need to replace thousands of pounds worth of possessions because of the mould.
The tenant claimed that despite being charged council tax he was informed he would no longer be eligible for support to pay his rent as he wasn’t living in the property.
After vacating the property, he also lost his single person discount on council tax with the current bill standing at £696.31. There is also an extra additional summons cost, making a total bill of £763.81.
WHBC is applying for a liability order, which will allow the court to take the money from benefit payments.
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The resident said his problems started in December, when he reported mould in his bedroom had started to spread.
Mr Canning, who suffers with sleep apnea, said his doctor feared it could have had an impact on his health so had to move into his flat’s living room.
However, after weeks of staying on the sofa he began to suffer a back injury, meaning he was required to move in with his parents until the problems were resolved.
WHBC started repairs in May, but there is still no end date in sight, and in the meantime Mr Canning has been unable to work.
As an owner of an event company, he’s missed the reopening of the industry because of his back injury and the impact on his mental health, and fears it could be months before he’s able to work again.
WHBC has started to do an acid wall wash to clear the bedroom, but are also completing works in the bathroom to meet his needs, but it requires an occupational health assessment.
He fears once necessary structural repairs are complete, there’s still the job of replacing anything affected by mould.
"I don’t have the money to buy a new bed, a mattress, and linen and all the rest of it."
He accepts he’s unlikely to make a successful defence in court, and will be saddled with an extra cost on top of having to replace many of his belongings.
He said the situation could have been avoided if the mould was tackled earlier.
“In the magistrates’ court, there’s very little defence I can give because of the way this law is set up but I will obviously be making sure that it goes on record with the situation that we’re in was created by the council, and the law is allowing them to now bully me.
“I clearly see it as bullying because somebody higher up the chain should be stepping in at this point and saying ‘this is not right’.”
Mr Canning argues he's entitled to compensation, and said other residents have expressed concerns about council repairs.
“We’re not asking for gold plated door handles. We’re asking you just to give us a property that is safe to live in, they wouldn’t live in any of these properties.”
WHBC said: “We are sorry to hear of the concerns raised by Mr Canning and have been liaising with him on a regular basis.
“The situation regarding his council tax support has been explained to him and the benefit team went through his circumstances during a telephone conversation.
“Mr Canning has been made aware of his rights and his account has been dealt with in accordance with council tax legislation which we must comply with.
“In the meantime, we are continuing to work with Mr Canning and his legal representative to ensure that we address and resolve the property issues highlighted.”