Barnet Council called in bailiffs to pursue a woman for Council Tax she did not owe, a watchdog found.

The authority admitted it had conducted an “inadequate” investigation into whether the woman’s home was part of a house in multiple occupation (HMO).

In an HMO, the landlord has to pay the council tax bill, not the tenant.

The complainant said her council tax had been paid monthly to her landlord and that she had already shown the council her tenancy agreement to prove it.

The first she heard of the supposedly unpaid tax was when the council instructed bailiffs to recover £1,300, plus enforcement fees.

She told the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that she suffered a panic attack when she received the enforcement notice. An ambulance had to be called.

“The council made a number of errors here,” wrote the ombudsman.

“The result of these errors was that [the woman] received a notice of enforcement, with no prior warning, and for something she was not actually liable to pay.”

The complaint was among 26 upheld by the ombudsman against Barnet in 2020/21.

That placed it just behind Haringey, which had the highest number of upheld complaints in London (27).

In another case, a disabled woman was left in unsuitable accommodation for 11 months.

The ombudsman ordered Barnet to pay £2,350 in compensation.

But overall, Barnet performed better than other councils.

The ombudsman upheld 70% of complaints it investigated against Barnet, compared to an average of 72% among similar councils.

In 19% of cases, the council had already provided a satisfactory remedy before the ombudsman became involved. The average among similar councils was 12%.

In cases where the ombudsman ordered remedial action, Barnet complied 100% of the time.

A council spokesperson said the number of upheld complaints was down on the previous year.

“We appreciate that there is more we can do to improve the complaints and compliments processes,” they continued.

“A comprehensive improvement plan is in place to enhance the administration of complaints and to ensure that we embed learning from them – as well as compliments – to improve our services.”