Hammersmith and Fulham Council is right up there with some of the worst local authorities in the country. Its very name is a byword for maladministration, arrogance and incompetence. Even though it claims that it is “transparent”, I have found it to be anything but.
Yesterday, I received a Council Tax Final Notice. It had been sent on 7 June. It demanded that I pay in full by 14 June; the same day that I received the notice. The notice gave a number to call: 020 8753 6681. Yet, as on so many occasions, when I phoned this number, I was greeted by the standard outgoing messages about being in a “queue” and “somebody would answer me shortly”. Well, after hanging on the phone for 15 minutes, I could wait no longer. I had things to do. So I used their “callback service”. I was told that they “would endeavour to return the call within 24 hours”. As per usual, they returned my call but I was sitting on a deep level tube train. The caller didn’t leave a number and mumbled her message. Mobile phone displays will always say “Unknown Number” if the call came from a large institution. So I assumed it was the council. I phoned the same number and got the same message as before. Again I used the callback facility. That was at 1400 yesterday afternoon and no one has bothered to call me back. In desperation I sent them an email. I am still waiting for a reply.
The Council’s officials are, on the whole, an inept bunch. I had a meeting with one official on Tuesday. I must have asked him 3 times to provide me with a breakdown for an alleged overpayment. He failed to provide me with the requested information. His manner was odd: he seemed nervous and shifty. He avoided eye contact and said very little. I thought he was hiding something. He did, however, admit that “restructuring” of the department had caused problems. But this was the most I could extract from him. There were no apologies. Nothing. It was as if I was dirt beneath his feet.
The attitude of H&F Council towards those who have to use its services is high-handed and arrogant. It behaves in a bullying fashion towards all who come into contact with it. Its administrative systems are chaotic and no one accepts responsibility for mistakes. Instead, Council officers shift the blame onto those who are trying to get answers. Its telephone “hotlines” are nothing of the sort and it is nigh on impossible to speak to anyone by phone. And even when you manage to speak to someone, they aren’t listening to you.
Living in Hammersmith & Fulham is like living in a real life version of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It’s a Kafkaesque nightmare to be sure.