‘When you start listening to me, call me back.’ With that, the council tax officer put the phone down on the caller.
This was the lowest in point in university student Leonardo’s lengthy conversations with Newham council over council tax exemption.
When Leo did call back, to make a complaint about his peremptory treatment at the hands of a council employee, things started looking up and the long-running problem was finally ‘understood’.
A pity, then, that council officers did not show more understanding in the first place.
When the current academic year started at the end of September 2016, Leo and his housemates supplied Newham Council with the paperwork to show that as university students they should be granted exemption from payment of council tax. Unfortunately, the council sent them bills for up to £900. The students supplied further evidence of their status, but the bills kept coming. Emails and phone calls seemed to make no difference.
One day, Leo called again and spoke to a council tax officer who, although somewhat abrupt, was nonetheless able to move the matter forwards. He accepted that the students did indeed have student status from the end of September 2016, but when Leo pointed out that they were returning students, i.e. that they had been students for longer than they had been living in the borough, he hit what seemed like a brick wall.
The council employee insisted that these students would have to pay council tax for the month when they lived in the borough, before the university supplied them with proof of student status for the current academic year. When Leo countered that they could prove they had been students for a whole year before this, the council officer ended the conversation in the abrupt manner described above.
My generation is often criticised for its exaggerated sense of entitlement. There may be some truth in this. But why do institutions like the local council make it so difficult for us to obtain what we really are entitled to?