A DISABLED woman who was told she would have to pay two council tax bills has been given a landmark reprieve after the Echo intervened.
Gillian Avart, 59, moved into temporary accommodation in Brook Drive, Wickford, after her ground floor maisonette on Basildon’s Craylands estate was destroyed in an arson attack.
She was shocked when she received a letter from Basildon Council asking her to stump up £516 towards the council tax bill for the Craylands property – despite it being uninhabitable.
She has had to pay council tax of £1,033 on the Wickford home as well as rent and bills since she moved in last July.
Mrs Avert, who is partiallysighted and has the neurological condition multiple sclerosis, lives off her pension after retiring early from her job at Essex County Council.
She said: “I didn’t ask for some lunatic to set fire to the flat upstairs and I didn’t ask to be moved. I feel like I’m being penalised for something not my fault.
“There are other families who had to move because of the fire, but I don’t think they’re affected because they get help with benefits.
“The Wickford property is actually better because I’m right near shops and the bus stop, which is important because of my health problems.
But, the council won’t move me permanently while work is still going on.
“It is classing me as a tenant of both properties, but the Craylands one is uninhabitable.”
The property is surrounded by a blue hoarding as council workers repair the block affected by the blaze.
New guidelines, which were introduced last week, have seen the council tax discount for unoccupied properties go from 100 per cent to 50 per cent.
After being contacted by the Echo, Basildon Council agreed to use its discretion to scrap the second council tax bill.
Shanna Chandiwana, revenues, benefits and business support manager at Basildon Council, said: “Due to the changes in discount for uninhabitable properties the customer was made liable to comply with the new policy.
“However, after reviewing this case, the council has removed her charge until the property is habitable.
“There have been many examples of this discretion being used due to the recent flood victims across the UK. This discretion has not been used by Basildon Council previously as under the old regulations a full exemption would have been awarded."