Friday, 14 June 2013

Afterwards

Writing to the Council
A few days ago we arrived at mum's old home, late but in the long light of the Highland summer. Since then, but for walks with Oscar, it's been work, including composing a letter to the local council to claim exemptions from council tax that ought to have been accorded, but for complicated reasons, have not. The letter with redactions to protect innocent and guilty:
Dear Sir or Madam
Re: Brin Croft, Inverarnie, Property No.**
On Wednesday 12 June I visited the Highland Council service point in Inverness, having just arrived to arrange the clearance of my deceased mother’s house at the address above and finding a council tax/water charge bill for £1650.24 for the financial year 2013-14 and also a ‘final notice’ for the bill. A very helpful council officer, Mary, took details and advised me to write to you to request your assistance in obtaining the council tax discounts to which I should be entitled.
My mother, Mrs Barbara Burnett-Stuart, passed away on November 1st, 2012, but, for reasons I will explain, the executors’ exemption was never applied. As this gets quite complicated, I will give the details in note form.
1. 01/11/12 - Mrs Burnett-Stuart died
2. 12/11/12 - My wife, Linda Baddeley, phoned the Highland Council tax office on my behalf, to inform them of my mother’s death. She explained that, because there were items of significant value in Brin Croft, which I was not allowed to remove until confirmation of the probate, the house being fairly isolated and it being general knowledge that Mrs Burnett-Stuart had died, the executors  (myself and my sister, who currently lives in New York) had employed a caretaker. The representative to whom my wife spoke said that in these circumstances the executors’ exemption might still be applied and that a bereavement form would be sent for me to complete.
3. 14/11/12 – I received a letter from the Highland Council operations team and a form to fill in with the executors’ details. I completed this and posted it by return
4. 16/11/12 – A council tax bill arrived at Brin Croft addressed to Mrs B Burnett-Stuart, for the period 2012 to 2013, indicating that £1096.08 had already been paid and that the amount still due was £548. The reference number for the account was 67-*******-12.
5. 16/11/12 – My wife phoned the Highland Council tax office to question the bill, in view of the fact that it was in Mrs Burnett-Stuart’s name rather than the Executors’ and that she had been told previously that the executors’ exemption might still be applied, in spite of the fact that there was a caretaker living in the house. The council representative informed her that it could not be applied if the house was occupied.
Mrs Baddeley explained that the caretaker, Mrs B****n, had a residence in xxx where she already paid full council tax and requested that the single occupancy discount be applied, as only the caretaker would be living in the house.
The council employee said that Mrs B****n would only be entitled to a 10% “second home” discount, as she had a home in Edinburgh. Mrs Baddeley pointed out that Brin Croft was not Mrs B****n’s  “home”, but her place of work, and that the nature of the work, i.e. being caretaker, required her to live there.
The council employee insisted that Brin Croft was Mrs B****n’s “second home”, and said that the council tax account must be put into her name, as the occupant and the person paying the bill.
Mrs B****n was not in fact paying the bill. As my sister had already returned to her home in New York and I myself live 450 miles away in Birmingham and am regularly out of the UK, Mrs B****n’s account was funded by the executors to pay her salary and all outgoings for Brin Croft, including council tax.
The council employee my wife spoke to would not accept that Mrs B****n was not personally responsible for the council tax. She insisted that the account would be put into Mrs B****n’s name and that only a 10% “second home” discount would be applied.
6. 16/01/13 - The Highland Council sent a bill to Mrs B****n at Brin Croft with “Reason For Issue: New Account”, reference number 62-06****-12. The bill for £617.10, rather than the £548.00 still due according to the previous bill dated 14th November addressed to my mother, was for the period 15th November 2012 to 31st March 2013. No discount of any kind had been applied. Mrs B****n rang the Highland Council and requested single occupancy discount. She was again refused the discount, on the grounds that Brin Croft was her ‘second home’.
7. 06/03/13 – Highland Council sent Mrs B****n a bill for £563.75 indicating that the 10% “second home” discount had been applied. Mrs B****n paid this bill on the 7th March 2013 – payment reference 6****2.
8. 12/03/13 - Highland Council sent Mrs B****n a bill for £1508.10, giving 10% “second home” discount, for the tax year 1st April 2013-31st March 2014. The first payment was due on April 1st 2013.
9. 17/03/13 - With all forms completed by the solicitor and Confirmation having been applied for, I was given permission to start clearing the house. I contacted Mrs B****n, who had taken the caretaking job in the knowledge that it could end with short notice, depending on when permission was given to clear the house, to inform her that her services would only be required until the end of March. All valuables were removed from the house by the end of the month.
10. 29/03/13 (approx.) - Mrs B****n rang Highland Council to inform them of her departure at the end of the month, asking for the account to be put into the name of “The Executors of the Late Barbara Burnett-Stuart”, and requesting that the six months executors’ exemption now be applied, as the property would be empty for the foreseeable future. She was informed that this exemption would only be applied if the immediately previous account holder had died.  As Mrs B****n was regarded as the previous account holder and had not died, my sister and myself, as executors, had been deprived of our entitlement to the executors’ exemption.
11. 31/03/13 - All valuables had been removed from the house and Mrs B****n vacated the property.
12. 11/06/13 – My wife and I, having been out of the UK for the whole of April and May, visited Brin Croft to arrange clearance of the remaining contents. In the post there was a council tax bill addressed to Mrs B****n dated 17/04/13 showing that she had paid all council tax due until her departure at the end of March.
There was also a bill stating “Reason For Issue: New Account, reference number 67-*****-13” in the name of “Executor of the Late B Burnett-Stuart” . The bill, for 01/04/13-31/03/14, showed the amount to be paid to be the full £1650.24 council tax, first instalment due 1st May 2013. There was also a council tax reminder/final notice dated 16/05/13, threatening harsh penalties for late payment.
The Highland Council had been informed by Mrs B****n that the property would be empty from April 1st  2013, so must have been aware that there was no-one at Brin Croft to receive the bill. I believe the bereavement form I returned in November 2012 gave my contact details, but, as far as I’m aware, no-one tried to contact me.
13. 12/06/13 - My wife and I spoke to Mary at the Highland Council Service Point in Church Street, Inverness.
Mrs B****n has informed me that during her time at Brin Croft she phoned several times and wrote to the Highland Council twice regarding the council tax issues, but nothing was resolved.
As you can imagine, trying to deal with this has added to the upset and stress already caused by the death of my mother and sorting our all her affairs.  The letter sent with the bereavement form on 12 November 2012 expressed deepest sympathy and stated “Council Tax is charged on a daily basis and in the changed circumstances it is important to ensure you receive every possible discount to which you may have become entitled.”
In effect the only discount which has been received was inappropriate, being a “second home” discount in the wrong name.
Mary at the Inverness Service Point was of the opinion that problems had all stemmed from the account being mistakenly changed into Mrs B****n’s name from 15th November 2012, resulting in two accounts being issued, instead of a single account, from November 1st 2012, in the name of the Executors of Mrs Barbara Burnett-Stuart.
The original account was:
67-****-12 Mrs B Burnett-Stuart
A new account in the name of the Executors of Mrs B Burnett-Stuart should have been opened from 1st November 2012 when she died. However the new account was opened in the name of Mrs E B****n from 15th November 2012:
62-****-12 Mrs E B****n
When Mrs B****n left our employ at the end of March 2013 the new account was opened in the name that should have applied all along:
67-*****-13 Executor of the Late B Burnett Stuart
In order to right matters, I am making a request that the records should be changed to reflect the council tax responsibility of the Executors of Mrs B Burnett-Stuart from November 1st 2012, until such a time in the future as the property is sold. I also believe that the following discounts should be applied:
1. 25% single occupancy discount from 1st  November 2012 to 31st March 2013, when Mrs B****n was employed as caretaker by the executors, due to circumstances beyond their control.
2. Executors’ exemption for the six months, starting 1st April 2013, or until the property is sold, should this be earlier than 30th September 2013.
The full council tax bill for Brin Croft for the year 2012-2013 was £1644.08. My mother paid a total of £1096.08 and the executors, via Mrs B****n, paid £563.75 (£617.10 less 10%), making a total of £1659.83. As you can see, this is £15.75 more than the correct cost for the year, even without taking into account the 10% saved due to the second home discount applied November 15th-31st March. The total charge before taking off this discount amounts to £1713.18. Obviously, as my mother was paying a year’s bill over only ten months, she had paid more than was due on the day the account was wrongly changed to Mrs B****n’s name. The amount due should have been £1644.08/365 x 228 days which equals £1026.99 rather than the £1096.08 she had paid.
In total £1659.83 was paid in council tax and water charges for the year 2012-2013, firstly by Mrs Burnett-Stuart and then by her executors via Mrs B****n.  I believe that the correct charge should have been £1489.81. (Full charge for the year £1644.08.   Mrs Burnett Stuart 228 days = £1026.99. Mrs B****n 137 days = £617.09, less 25% single occupancy discount = £462.82).
I am therefore also requesting that the overpayment of £170.02, which belongs to the four beneficiaries of my mother’s will, be repaid to the solicitor dealing with my mother’s estate:....Mr **** can also confirm that the executors have been responsible for and have paid, via Mrs B****n, all bills at Brin Croft since my mother’s death on November 1st 2012.....I apologise for the length of this letter, but, as you can see, the situation is complicated and took a great deal of words and time to explain. I have been out of the country for most of the year so far, so this is the first opportunity I have had to make this appeal. I believe that Mrs B****n wrote to you more than once while I was away, but had no joy. I was very upset to hear from her that it had been implied, by Highland Council staff, that she was lying about the situation in order to claim a discount on her own behalf to which she was not entitled. I hope this letter (and the considerable time and effort taken to write it!) will show that this was certainly not the case.
I must say that I have been both surprised and disappointed at the way this has been dealt with by the Highland Council and hope that this can now be redressed.
I will be in the UK until September and look forward to hearing from you in due course at the above Birmingham address. If necessary, I can also be contacted by phone on 0121 *** **** or by email at ***@****.
Yours faithfully
Simon Baddeley
"You know" I said to Lin after hours working on this letter - entirely her work - printed and posted by me this morning, also emailed as an attachment to the Operations Manager of Highland Council...
"I can sometimes see the attractions of corruption. Instead of writing this long complaint and petition I could pop down to see a 'friend' in the council and with a swift φακελάκι the whole ruddy mess would be sorted in minutes."
Arriving in the gloaming at Brin Croft
It's strange to be without phone or wifi, but a good test too. We can get a weak mobile signal from a slope at one corner of the garden, but to work on the internet and phone we're buying coffee and biscuits in a 'free wifi' hotel overlooking the river Ness in town.
A weak signal
Colin came round to strim the long grass that's grown around the house since mum died...


...and I've done weeding and pruning and sweeping and clearing - but there's more to do. Our main work's indoors where we have to have the house cleared so as to put it on the market, all items inventoried and accounted for, with some to be kept, some sold, some given to charities.  For some things, transport costs could be higher than the sale price, unless we do our own carriage. One quote we had for the journey to a sale in Edinburgh started at £600. There's an auction at Fraser's at Dingwall in mid-July, so we're creating an 'auction' pile and planning to hire a drive-yourself van. Other items are, though not especially valuable, likely to do better if sold on eBay or Gumtree or taken south and sold at auction there. We may be able to borrow a van for that and so more could be paid to beneficiaries. So there's a 'going south' pile. I'm taking a load of mum's books that none of us wants to Leakey's in Invemess. What they won't buy will go to the charity bookshop over the road. Lin's putting mum's extensive disability equipment on Gumtree, after disability companies told me that you cannot sell these things second hand to public companies or charities - those who perhaps most want it. "Too many ifs and buts about safety, especially for electrically powered items". I suspect we may end up giving away a lot of very expensive kit in good condition and I as an executor will need to justify this.
Mum's scooter bought new which she used once and didn't like (photo: Linda B)
My grief for mum is placeless. Thank goodness. This work is tedious and often frustrating, but I get not the slightest sense of mum's having been here. She's left no presence. That's all in my head wherever I am and in my DNA. She made the places she lived, and when she left them, in this case in dying, they cease to be part of her. What's her is not material, not in objects or sounds or even smells. It's all in my head and heart. So Lin and I are together here, surrounded by objects that carry no charge.
I take Oscar for familiar walks but no longer with the other terriers. He runs back and forth led by his nose, his tail wagging, happy as a Wordsworth child and as bored when stuck with us at home as we concentrate on the banality of probate.
Strathnairn - a fresh summer breeze from the south

*** ***
Ill news from beloved Greece - the planned closure of their equivalent of the BBC - TV and radio... a comment on the village website:



14.06.13

                                                      ΨΗΦΙΣΜΑ samaras.jpgΗ Φιλαρμονική Άνω Κορακιάνας «Ο Σπύρος Σαμάρας», ως ένα από τα πολλά σωματεία της Ελλάδας που υπηρετούν τον πολιτισμό και την παιδεία και διαπνέονται από την πίστη στην ελευθερία της σκέψης, τη δημοκρατία και την αγάπη στην πατρίδα, καταδικάζει την μεγάλη προσβολή που συνετελέσθη στο πρόσωπο του ελληνικού λαού με την βίαιη και πραξικοπηματική φίμωση της Ελληνικής Ραδιοφωνίας Τηλεόρασης, εκφράζοντας παράλληλα την συμπαράστασή της στους απολυμένους της.
Το κλείσιμο της Ελληνικής Ραδιοφωνίας Τηλεόρασης, του μόνου εναπομείναντος ισχυρού κυματοθραύστη απέναντι σε κάθε λογής προϊόν υποκουλτούρας και αποχαύνωσης αλλά και συνάμα πυλώνος έκφρασης και διάδοσης του ελληνικού πολιτισμού, στο κέντρο, τη διασπορά αλλά και πολλές ευαίσθητες περιοχές, αποτελεί πράξη εκβαρβαρισμού και γεννά πολλά ερωτηματικά, τώρα που όλοι είμαστε πλέον βέβαιοι για τις «πονηρές» ημέρες που διάγουμε και τις ζοφερές αναμνήσεις που πλησιάζουν απειλητικά από το μέλλον…
                                      Για το Δ.Σ. 
Ο Πρόεδρος του Δ.Σ.                                    Ο Γ. Γραμματέας
 

ΣΠΥΡΙΔΩΝ ΣΑΒΒΑΝΗΣ                                 ΣΤΑΜΑΤΗΣ ΑΠΕΡΓΗΣ



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