Dacorum Borough Council has apologised after sinkhole-affected residents were mistakenly charged for their council tax – despite being offered a full refund.
At a meeting of the council’s cabinet last week it was revealed those living in Oatridge Gardens – where the 35ft-wide cavity opened up in February – would be given a 100% tax discount covering the day the sinkhole appeared to the time all utilities are restored to each of the 48 homes affected.
But new mum Karen Prall, who lived in a flat in the Adeyfield estate run by Hightown Praetorian and Churches, says a sum of £165 was taken out of her account unexpectedly yesterday.
The 33 year old, who is being temporarily housed with her fiance and baby son in St Albans until their home is liveable again, said: “My son was two and a half months old when we had to move out – we had made his nursery and everything. He has now lived longer out of his family home than he lived in it, which is a shame.
“We want to be able to move back home, but we need to be sure it is definitely safe, and there is no way we can while there is no gas.
“We have been found a property we can live in for the meantime but there has been so much upheaval, and we are paying council tax here. We had been told our other council tax would be suspended.”
Chris Baker, group manager for revenues and benefits at the borough council, said: “Unfortunately we did not remove an automatic payment request after the decision to approve a 100% local council tax discount for residents of Oatridge Gardens, and money was taken from 18 residents who had set up direct debits with us on the first of the month.
“We would like to apologise to everyone affected by this mistake. We have phoned all the individuals involved to explain what has happened and when they should expect to receive their refund.
“We are working with Hightown Praetorian and Churches Housing Association to let all Oatridge Gardens residents know about the discount.”
Most of the homes are in council tax band C with some in band E, so it is estimated that the conciliatory offer will cost the borough council in the region of £17,700.
Last week Hightown revealed results of a geotechnical survey on Oatridge Gardens, which found no evidence that a similar event might occur elsewhere on the estate.
According to the company, the results conclude the sinkhole was triggered by the exceptionally wet weather over autumn and winter.
Hightown’s chief executive David Bogle said: “The works to stabilise the ground in the vicinity of the sinkhole and at the entrance to the estate are reaching an end and we hope that the gas supply to the estate can soon be restored.
“Our top priority has always been the safety and well-being of the residents and we have concentrated since the beginning on getting the estate back to normal as soon as possible.
“The appearance of the sinkhole in February has been a major and unprecedented challenge for Hightown. It’s been a difficult experience for all the residents affected and we are tremendously grateful for their patience and cooperation while we continue to work towards getting people back in their homes.”
Latest estimates suggest it could be up to six weeks before grouting works are finished and utility companies can consider reconnection in Oatridge Gardens.