Taken to court – for paying too much

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Former Lions Club president Colin Smith and his wife Maureen have accused the Parish of St Clement of ‘bureaucracy gone mad’ after it refused to accept the accidental over-payment because its computer system could not cope with it.

The parish has now set a debt collection agency on to the couple and they have been threatened with court.Parish Constable Derek Gray says the Smiths only have themselves to blame because of their ‘stubbornness’.

‘We have been very helpful and this could have been sorted out a long time ago but they wanted to be awkward,’ he said.The saga started in October when the Smiths sent a cheque to the parish hall for the foncier’s rate on a property they own in the parish.

Their tenant, Richard Brooks, paid with a separate cheque for the occupier’s rate.But the parish returned Mr Brooks’s cheque to Mrs Smith, saying the combined total was 27p too much because Mrs Smith had miscalculated.At the parish hall Mrs Smith suggested to a rates officer that they keep the over-payment as a gift but was told the computer would not accept that.She asked for her own cheque back so that she could write another for the correct amount.

She was told that was not possible and that she should write a cheque for Mr Brooks’s share (minus 27p) and then go to Mr Brooks, get him to rip up his original cheque and ask him to pay her the balance.’I was getting angry because the man was being so rude,’ said Mrs Smith.

‘I left Mr Brooks’s cheque and told them to sort it out.

He said that if I left it, he would leave it on the counter, not touch it, and then the parish would sue me.

I couldn’t believe it.

But I left the cheque, thinking that common sense would prevail and that would be that.’But Mr and Mrs Smith were informed in writing last week that the issue had now been placed in the hands of the Collect Services debt agency because Mr Brooks’s half was still outstanding.

The parish insist that the debt is the Smiths’ as owners of the property.The Smiths have until today to pay up the outstanding £244.45, including an extra £1.66 in interest and £10 in costs, or face court action.A personal appeal to Constable Derek Gray fell on stony ground.

He backed his parish hall staff and told Mrs Smith she would have to pay the debt collectors.And he told the JEP: ‘We have been very helpful accepting two cheques when in fact the Smiths are liable for the whole amount.

How they chose to recover the money from their tenant is their business, not ours.

The computer programme could not deal with the wrong amount and this could easily have been sorted out by Mrs Smith writing out one cheque.

We have been trying to be reasonable.’The Smiths are now considering their next step but are anxious to avoid going to court.’It’s ludicrous,’ said Mr Smith.

‘It’s petty-minded.’And Mrs Smith added: ‘It’s an unbelievable saga.

It’s the principle of the thing, not the money.’

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