Great-grandmother, 82, receives council demand for unpaid tax of 7 pence... from 10 YEARS ago

A great grandmother was stunned to be told by her local council that they wanted to claw back a seven pence council tax debt from ten years ago.

Elsie Gallagher, 82, received the unexpected bill from Durham County Council for the decade-old debt and branded the letter 'a farce'.

The letter reads: ‘Dear Mrs Gallagher, ‘You have been overpaid council tax benefit of 0.07p’. It said she had accrued the paltry debt over 366 days between 1999 and 2000.

Stunned: Elsie Gallagher with the tax demand from Durham County Council

Stunned: Elsie Gallagher with the tax demand from Durham County Council

The widow, of Horden, County Durham, was upset and angry at the demand from the cash-strapped authority, which faces axing 1,600 jobs due to funding cuts.

‘It’s ridiculous,’ she said. ‘To think they’ve spent the time and money to print the letter, put it in an envelope and put a stamp on it, all for the sake of 7p.  

It was sent second class, so that's 32p they wasted, and it was in a fancy envelope, not a plain one, it was green and white with stripes.

‘I couldn't believe it when I opened it. I've never owed a penny in my life and then a letter arrived.

‘At first it was difficult to understand what it was about, and I was worried I might owe a lot - then I realised it was 7p.

‘I've always kept up to date with my payments and the council have admitted it  was a mistake.

Shock: The offending letter

Shock: The offending letter

‘The letter saddened me, to think the country could be in such dire straits.

‘It's funny they had to go back all those years - nearly 12 years - to scrape  pennies together to make shillings and pounds.

‘I've always paid my bills so I was shocked to think I owed anything at all.

‘This is the first time I've ever had any letter like it.

‘I have five sons and four daughters, they all know about it and think it's ridiculous.

‘I think this country must be in dire straits if they’re having to scrape together a few pennies here and there.’  

She added: ‘It makes you want to cry. They’re making cuts right, left and centre.

‘Selling forests, closing libraries yet many children cannot afford computers. They don’t know what they’re doing.’  

Mrs Gallagher, whose husband Edward died from cancer in 1997, has lived in the same house in her village since 1951.

She received the letter on Friday. It said the overpayment ‘which it calculated to a weekly rate of £0.00018’ was due to a change in circumstances.

‘I couldn’t make head nor tail of it at first,’ said the great grandmother of nine.

‘It appears they made a mistake, but I can’t believe it’s still legal to claim back something from so long ago.

‘And I didn’t like the wording on the back about criminal procedures.’  

The letter, from the council offices in Easington Colliery, said the 7p would be added to Mrs Gallagher’s council tax bill  and she would receive another  letter telling her how much was now owing in total.

Durham County Council today said it would cancel the extra payment.

Head of Finance Jeff Garfoot said: ‘This bill shouldn’t have been sent out and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.

‘This bill slipped through the net due to a computer error. Normally we wouldn’t ask for payment of a debt like this.’