This morning, I was both surprised and concerned to receive your 'final notice' demanding the payment of £494.00 in outstanding Council Tax within 14 days. No prior intimation of such a large oustanding liability had been given.
Given the rigour of Scotland's laws on the collection of civic debt, receipt of that letter prompts me to narrate some of the issues which have arisen in relation to my servicing of your 2006-2007 Council Tax demand.
My household is comprised of my fiancee and myself. Earlier this year, like all other householders in the land, we received our Council Tax demand.
For the privilege of living in the small two-bedroom flat that we and not South Lanarkshire Council own, South Lanarkshire Council elected to charge us £1271.64 for the coming 2006-2007 Council Tax year.
The 2005-2006 Council Tax demand had been serviced without incident, with payment having been collected directly from my bank account via direct debit. However, late last year my employers notified me that they would be changing the date upon which they pay my wages from the 25th of the month to the last working day of the month, with this change taking effect from February 2006.
I spoke to your Finance section well beforehand, and was advised to cancel the direct debit directly with my bank. I was also advised that South Lanarkshire Council would forward me a mandate for the instruction of a new direct debit. My bank was duly instructed, and you sent me a new direct debit mandate which I returned in the pre-addressed envelope you had provided.
During the first two months of the 2006-2007 Council Tax year, South Lanarkshire Council failed to collect any monies from my account. Becoming concerned, I spoke to your Finance section again and was told that the new direct debit mandate did not appear to have been received.
With the Council Tax year having started, I decided that it would be more appropriate to commence making payments in cash. I was advised that a revised bill would be sent to me, along with the bureaucratically necessary payment card.
Since then South Lanarkshire Council has sent me not one but five different Council Tax payment cards. The card upon which payments have been made is numbered 9826913001252405561; in fact three of the other four bear the same number, the odd man out being 9826913001236034503.
Payments have been made as follows -
On June 24 2006, £150.00 was paid under Checksum RZN3GC, APS No. 024967.
On July 1 2006, £150.00 was paid under Checksum TT23GC, APS No. 038872.
On July 29 2006, £150.00 was paid under Checksum T7X3GC, APS No. 026764.
On September 2 2006, £170.00 was paid under Checksum RLH3GE, APS No. 033926.
On September 30 2006, £150.00 was paid under Checksum YZ83GC, APS No. 069802.
On October 9 2006, £7.64 was paid under Checksum YXH3G5, APS No. 044033.
And on November 4 2006, £150.00 was paid under Checksum 4RM3GC, APS No. 064251.
All payments have been made within the sub Post-Office located on the premises of Send & Spend Ltd., 217 Main Street, Rutherglen, G73 2HH.
With two exceptions, the payments of June 24 and October 9, all payments have been made on the Saturday immediately following payment of my wages. Unfortunately, my own working hours, and the location of my workplace, prevent me from attending a Post Office on the date my wages are paid.
I must respectfully submit that the above payment history cannot and could never be construed in such a way as to either suggest or imply that my household is unwilling to fulfil its civic obligations or is lax in their performance.
There are some on South Lanarkshire Council's staff for whom I have the utmost praise; in particular a Mrs. Richmond, who got the revised bill out to us double quick. Mrs. Richmond is the kind of public servant the United Kingdom could do with many more of, because quite clearly she gets things done.
However, while meeting my bank in either August or September, I was surprised to learn that South Lanarkshire Council had attempted to make a deduction from my account using the old direct debit instruction that it had told me to scrap. That attempt pushed my overdraft over its limit, and resulted in South Lanarkshire Council landing me with bank charges of £34.00 that would otherwise not have been payable. So far, I have not insisted that South Lanarkshire Council reimburse these back to me- perhaps I should.
Given this history, one is slightly aggrieved to be threatened with summary warrants and Sheriff Officers when to all intents and purposes the reason for any arrears having been incurred is South Lanarkshire Council's failure to timeously implement an amended direct debit mandate; or else because its procedures for dealing with incoming mail might not be as efficient as they should. That is the long and the short, the nuts and the bolts, of the whole matter.
I really wouldn't mind so much were it not for the fact that our contact with South Lanarkshire Council is so limited. Our flat is in a block maintained by a factor, in the Scottish style, who attends to the cleaning of the stairs, the cutting of the grass and so on. South Lanarkshire Council collects the refuse every Wednesday - and from one week's end to the next that's the only contact we have with the authority.
That's not to say we couldn't have more. For example, I have often wondered at the complete lack of a visible police presence in our area. Foot patrols are, of course, a thing now of the long past - but it's only really very rarely that we even see a police car.
We have no children, so we have no interest in education services.
I'm from outwith the area and my fiancee is a foreign national, so we don't need to visit the graveyards.
However, South Lanarkshire Council does have a municipal function to perform in respect of which I have to say I really don't think it gives us value for money - cleansing.
Our street is filthy, all the time, all year round. If a verb were to be coined to describe some dog owners' disgusting practice of taking their animals onto other peoples' spaces so their beasts can defecate, the name of our street might be apt. Its pavements are smeared with canine fecal matter from top to bottom.
In addition, some kind civic soul once had the bright idea of blocking the street in half. Although not car owners ourselves, we can fully understand the frustrations of those who have to detour in order to make short journeys - clearly the measure was introduced when public concerns over congestion and pollution were not as prominent as they are now.
However, the traffic calming measure's mere existence means that some in the locality treat it as a disposal point for larger items of household rubbish. Consequently, sometimes one feels one is living on top of a Mexican rubbish dump. All that's missing from the picture are the street urchins trying to scratch a living from the trash.
It is my understanding that South Lanarkshire Council uses the traffic calming measure as an uplift point for such 'larger items of household rubbish' - however, on the last occasion I made use of this service, in an attempt to dispose of a microwave oven which became an almost Herculean task, the item was not uplifted at the allotted time.
That my fiancee and I are both low wage-earners and that I suffer from an hereditary neurological disorder which in recent months has become increasingly debilitating, to the extent that I am now on long term sick leave from my employment, are, of course, of no interest to you; however, they affect us greatly - and ill-considered official missives do little to improve either her mood or my condition.
I'm really not in the mood for phoning you today, but I am going to phone you tomorrow.
And I'd like to speak to Mrs Richmond.