Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Suicide of Man after Tax Bill Was Sent by Mistake

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Suicide of Man after Tax Bill Was Sent by Mistake

Article excerpt


A TOWN hall's "disastrous" benefits department has been severely criticised after a man committed suicide over a [pound]235 council tax summons he should never have been sent.

George Hilleard, 54, hanged himself on the same weekend that he received a letter threatening to take him to court because of an unpaid council tax bill.

It later emerged that the out-ofwork carpenter, who suffered from learning difficulties, had made applications for council tax benefit three months beforehand that should have exempted him.

But Southwark council's privatised benefits service, CSL, failed to process the claim - and instead sent him a summons threatening him with prison over the unpaid bill.

The council has now offered to pay Mr Hilleard's family [pound]3,200 in compensation after the Local Government Ombudsman investigated a complaint brought by his sister Grace, 66, and her husband Leonard Capper, 73.

Mr Capper said: "This past year has been a nightmare for my wife and myself. With her brother's learning difficulties, all he probably saw on the bill was the bit threatening to send him to prison.

"It was only as a result of my inquiries that all this came to light - otherwise I think they would have been quite happy to just sweep it under the table."

Mr Hilleard left school without being able to read or write, but with his family's help learned

basic literacy skills. Despite being unemployed for several years he remained hopeful of finding work.

But in October 2000, the Benefits Agency mistakenly ceased his Jobseekers' Allowance, causing CSL to cancel his council tax benefit and send him the [pound]235 bill.

Conscientiously, Mr Hilleard then visited the council offices twice - once that month and once in December - to fill out new applications for council tax benefit, providing confirmation that he was again receiving his allowance. …

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