Wednesday 18 July 2012
A Senseless Waste of Life
Sixty-three year old inventor Peter Williams (pictured) took his own life In February by standing in front of a train because he had been served an eviction notice and couldn't face losing his home.
Mr Williams was a brilliant engineer who died at Biggleswade months before his Vortex device was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most energy efficient hand dryer.
Sixteen years ago Mr Williams fell behind in his council tax payments after he fell ill and was unable to work. In 2005 he offered to pay in instalments but this was refused. He was made bankrupt in 2006 with Grant Thornton as Trustee in Bankruptcy, but by 2010 the legal fees and interest had reached £70,000 on an initial debt of £1500.
The day before he died, the firm producing Mr William's hand dryers, SAVortex, offered to pay £1,000 a month but the offer was refused.
For years he suffered from depression and his GP wrote to the council telling them that his depression had put him in the 'severe category' but Grant Thornton instructed solicitors to evict him.
Mr Williams implored his friends to make his case against the council and the system 'most public' and I note that mental health barrister Laura Davidson has agreed to represent the family without charge.
It won't be the last time a council has pushed someone over the edge with their bullying demands for payments, yet in this case Central Bedfordshire District Council reject any suggestion that it was responsible for this 'tragic event'.
The inquest yesterday was adjourned because Ms Davidson said the Coroner should summon council witnesses (none attended) to investigate the death properly. I do hope it is thoroughly investigated because, if the reports are accurate, turning down offers of instalments, while having professional evidence that Mr Williams was ill, amounts to persecution and intimidation.
There are far too many cases of this kind happening throughout the country and little help for those desperately requiring advice. Most people who fall into arrears can't afford expensive solicitors and have to rely on the Citizens Advice Bureau to help. Recently I tried to contact my CAB only to find I was put through to a call centre then given the local number. Fourteen times I tried the number - within office hours - and a recorded message said they were too busy to answer but to leave your name and number and someone would get back to me. That was over two months ago and I'm still waiting. My problem wasn't urgent but it could have been.
I suggest that government legislates for each council to have an independent arbitration facility for council tax arrear clients. It could be composed of professionals and laypersons who would be willing to offer their time and expertise free of charge.
Somehow bullying councils have to be brought to heel with regard to CT debts and early intervention by an independent group could be the first time these councils have ever met their matches.