'I'm not dead!' - Grieving woman opens letter from council debt collectors stating she is deceased (From Times Series)
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'I'm not dead!' - Grieving woman opens letter from Barnet Council debt collectors stating she is deceased
A grieving daughter had the fright of her life when she opened a letter from the council stating she was dead.
Maxine Collins received the unsettling correspondence from debt collectors at Barnet Council who wrote to relatives asking for outstanding council tax payments.
The 49-year-old, who had moved to Essex to care for her mother in August after her father passed away, opened the letter when it was sent to her parent’s house on September 25.
Revenue services at the local authority were outsourced to Capita on September 1 as part of a multi-million pound contract under its One Barnet scheme.
Weeks before receiving the death notice, Mrs Collins had contacted Barnet Council to sort out the outstanding tax bill and was told she would have to pay a lump sum of £700.
Before she had a chance to respond, her elderly mother, still grieving for her late husband who died of cancer in May, was sent a letter requesting the date of her daughter’s death, the name and address of her executor and other admin information.
The note came at the end of a traumatic couple of months for Mrs Collins, who lost her father and father-in-law to cancer within weeks of one another.
The mother-of-two, formerly of Cranbrook Road, East Barnet, said: “I’ve had a nightmare of a year but how they’ve come to the conclusion that I am dead I don’t know – I’d been in contact with them every week.
“My mum was furious. She’s obviously dealing with grief as well and this has really upset her.
“You would think they would want to see a death certificate or check this more thoroughly before they start sending out letters like this.”
The letter stated the information came from Mrs Collins’ bank, Santander, but when she called the branch they denied any knowledge of her supposed death.
Mrs Collins says she has been able to see the funny side to the incident but feels there is a serious underlying issue the council, Capita and Santander need to address.
The make-up artist said: “There is clearly a communication issue. They have outsourced this sort of thing now and I don’t think they know what they’re doing.
“I got the summons for my outstanding council tax in the middle of caring for two relatives who had been diagnosed with cancer. The person at the council was very discourteous and rude so I had to ring up someone else to find out what the problem was.
“No-one is in contact with anyone by the looks of things – they’re just writing out letters. As it happens it has come to me but imagine if it had been someone more elderly and vulnerable – this could have caused real distress.”
A Barnet Council spokesman said: “When a resident cancels or changes a direct debit payment for council tax an automatic notification is sent by the resident’s bank to the council setting out the reason. This includes when a resident has passed away.
“In this case we received incorrect information from the bank and we would like to sincerely apologise for any distress caused by this letter.”
A Santander spokesman said: “We are looking into what’s happened as a matter of urgency and are of course very sorry that Ms Collins’ mother has suffered distress.”
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