Mr D had previously (in 2014, 2015 and 2016) contacted Wrexham County Borough Council (“the Council”) about Welsh language errors in the Council Tax bills he had received. In 2017, after again receiving a bill containing language errors, Mr D complained formally to the Council and then to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman felt that he could resolve the dispute by using his powers under s 3 of the Act which enables him to resolve complaints early as opposed to undertaking a full investigation. To this end, on 3 October 2017, the Council formally agreed to apologise in writing to Mr D for the deficiencies in the Welsh language, to pay him redress of £50 for his trouble, and to give an assurance that those errors would be rectified in time for the 2018/2019 billing period (if not before).
Mr D received a bill for 2018/2019 in March 2018. He noticed that there were again a number of Welsh language errors (and inconsistency between Welsh and English within the document). He complained to the Ombudsman that the Council had failed to comply with his recommendations after all, and that it was a sign of “disrespect to tax payers, the Welsh language, the law and the Ombudsman.”
After seeing the evidence, the Ombudsman decided that he was not satisfied that the Council had implemented the recommendations in full as had been agreed. He determined that he would need to invoke his powers to issue a special report in order to convey the message to other public bodies that early resolutions under the Act are serious matters. Bodies are required to comply with them having agreed. The report was critical of the Council’s failure to implement the recommendations in full despite the Council formally agreeing to do so, and that it was only now working towards making the necessary changes for the next tax year. Given the Council uses the same system for Housing Benefit notifications, the Ombudsman was not confident of their accuracy either. Therefore, the Ombudsman made further recommendations, as follows, and the Council agreed to implement them:
(a) To send a written apology to Mr D once again for the continued delay in correcting the linguistic errors in the Council Tax document (within one month).
(b) To offer £100 in compensation for the injustice caused to him and for his efforts in having to raise the matter with me again (within one month).
(c) To create a formal and written process regarding the procedure the Council has told me it will use to produce the annual Notice (within three months).
(d) The Chief Executive to write to me to provide an assurance that the Council’s documents in relation to Council Tax and Housing Benefits will be sent to the Council’s translation partners to be reviewed (and corrected as required). This task should be completed so that they are issued to the software systems for the next financial year (2019/2020) in relation to Council Tax, and for the following year (2020/2021) for Housing Benefit.
(e) In the meantime, to create an accurate individual Council Tax Notice (as they did for Mr D) for any other individual who requests it in Welsh (as required, before releasing the new Notice for the next financial year).