A South London man paid £5,000 in council tax for a house he never owned after bailiffs threatened to take away his car.

Merton Council has now been told to apologise to the man and pay him £300.

The case, outlined in a report by the Local Government Ombudsman, involves two men referred to as Mr Z and Mr Y.

It said Mr Z owned a dilapidated bungalow which he wanted to turn into new houses. 

Plans were initially refused by Merton Council but later overturned on appeal in 2021.

From August 2021, ownership of the bungalow was transferred to a company, of which Mr Y is a director.

The council said as the two men had similar names it got confused and wrongly sent Mr Y demands for council tax.

Three weeks after Mr Y told the council he did not own the property, Merton Council sent bailiffs to his home.

He paid a debt of £5,000 as they threatened to take his car away and a day later he emailed the council to point out he had never owned the property.

Despite this, the council sent him another text, while he was on holiday with his family, saying he still owed more than £2,000.

He sent the council land registry documents which showed Mr Z was the owner of the bungalow and a month later Merton Council admitted it had made a mistake.

The ombudsman wrote: “The council has accepted that its enforcement action was based on a misreading of the evidence it had.

"That was fault. It was further fault that the council did not act on Mr Y’s contact telling it he did not own the property.

"Instead, three weeks later, it sent enforcement agents.

“Given Mr Y’s imminent holiday, it is understandable that he paid the debt. But he contacted the council before going away and advised it again he did not own the property.

"He also advised it of his holiday.

"So I find fault the council did not consider this information.

"Instead on November 6 it sent Mr Y a text, threatening further action.”

Merton Council agreed to send Mr Y a written apology and make a symbolic payment of £300 to recognise the “avoidable stress and inconvenience” caused.

A spokesperson for the authority said: “The council wishes to apologise again for errors on its part and any undue stress caused to Mr Y as a result.

"As the article states, this case was dealt with via the Local Authority Ombudsman.

"The council accepted the findings and has put in place the agreed actions and recommendations of the ombudsman as a result.”