April 22, 2024
Money

Guilty verdict as Kingston-upon-Thames County Court wouldn’t pay up




Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below. 

C.I. writes: I issued a court claim for £350 against LG, a white goods maker, relating to a washing machine guarantee. 

The firm did not put up a defence to the claim and it was paid after I engaged bailiffs at Kingston-upon-Thames County Court. 

Bailiffs collected payment last November and the money is, they say, now with the court. 

Despite numerous emails, the money is still outstanding and the court’s phone goes unanswered.

I have also emailed the Courts and Tribunals Service complaints department, to no avail.

Tony Hetherington replies: It is like a bad joke. You make a claim at the court, and you win. Bailiffs collect the money. They hand the cash to the court – and the court keeps it. 

You called in the bailiffs on November 1 last year, and in mid-December you asked them what had happened. Had they succeeded in collecting your money? The bailiffs replied: ‘This was paid on November 15. If you have not received the money, you need to contact Kingston County Court. The bailiffs’ office does not deal with payments out.’

You emailed the court on December 13 and again the next day. Nobody replied. The bailiffs told you to expect a response within ten working days, failing which you should try writing to the court. You wrote on January 9. Nobody replied.

After you contacted me, I emailed the Clerk to the Court on January 14. Nobody replied. On January 20, I emailed again, and this time I involved the Ministry of Justice. After all, what is the point in a justice system that simply doesn’t work.

The Ministry slowly moved into action, and it took until February 9 for officials to push the court into contacting you. An unsigned email explained: ‘On behalf of Kingston County Court, I can confirm the money is currently going through our payment system. Unfortunately, we have moved to a new system which has caused some issues and delays with the payout process.’

I went back to the Ministry. Could I have a comment from the Justice Minister Alex Chalk MP, please? On February 13, the Ministry promised me that you would be paid within a couple of days, but on the same day it also told me your money was actually ‘released’ on January 30. Released? After three months in the clutches of Kingston County Court, I reckon it escaped.

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HOW THIS IS MONEY CAN HELP

Two days passed and your money was still on the run. A lot of Ministry of Justice work has been outsourced to a private company called Liberata, so I contacted it and asked whether staff there knew who had your cash. They did. Within 24 hours, Liberata’s chief executive Charlie Bruin told me: ‘Liberata manages payments for HM Courts and Tribunals Service, and we can confirm all necessary procedures were followed with the utmost care and attention. A payment has been disbursed in accordance with the contractual requirements.’

The Liberata boss helpfully explained his company holds no money. Courts ask Liberata to make a payment from the court’s own bank account. So when did Liberata receive the request to hand over your money? It was on February 12, almost three months to the day since the bailiffs had handed it in at the court.

On February 19, you received a cheque for £433, including costs. But this was not quite the end of the story.

A week ago you received an apology from the Ministry of Justice, on behalf of the Minister, Alex Chalk. An official explained: ‘I contacted the court and they informed me they have experienced problems with processing the payment due to issues with the computer system.’ I have always resisted the phrase ‘Broken Britain’, but sometimes they are the only words that apply.

You’d need a pool for this water bill

A.B. writes: Thames Water rang me out of the blue to say I had an unpaid balance of almost £4,400 on my account.

I live in a small North London flat with my wife and two young children, and the charges relate to an ‘anomalous’ meter reading by a Thames Water employee in 2020, showing we had used 2,000 units of water. 

In fact, our usage is about 100 units a year.

Tony Hetherington replies: Back in 2020, when you first spotted the huge meter reading, you contacted Thames Water and were told an engineer would investigate within days. Of course, nobody did, no matter how many times you called. 

Then in 2021, you were told Thames Water would rebase future bills, with a fresh starting point. The previous incorrect reading would be ignored. Suddenly, almost three years later, Thames Water resurrected the clearly wrong reading and again told you that an engineer would visit. 

Meanwhile, it claimed you owe £4,494. This time, the engineer did turn up, and after examining the meter he explained to get the reading shown on bills, you would have had to open a swimming pool.

Thames Water told me: ‘Our customer service teams have investigated and found this was due to an abnormal meter reading.’ Your account has now been recalculated and the result is that you are now £500 in credit!

If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned. 

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