In addition, many of those 55 cases were deliberately allowed to run beyond 13 weeks in the knowledge that an appropriate outcome was imminent, a much better option than initiating unnecessarily the time consuming statutory investigation process. By the year-end there were no complaints on hand which had reached the 13 weeks’ stage. The Pre Purchase Building Inspection Business Plan recognised that to hold the average throughput time to its previous level of between 10 to 11 months would be a significant achievement.
Given that the more straightforward types of cases on which statutory reports would have issued in the past were now more likely to be resolved short of that stage. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that for the cases which resulted in a statutory investigation report the average throughput time was just under 52 weeks.
In paragraph 1.4 of chapter 1 the Ombudsman describes how our average throughput times can fairly be shown in a much more favourable light. Although the figures fluctuated over the year, and reached 40 in December 2000, by 31 March 2001 there were only ten cases on hand over 12 months old.
Mr B complained that at a lunchtime in September 1999, Customs erroneously sent a bailiff to his restaurant (the restaurant). He said the bailiff sought, in the hearing of customers and staff, to levy on goods in respect of a value-added tax (VAT) debt which Mr B did not owe. Mr B also complained that the £100 consolatory payment which Customs offered him in compensation was inadequate.
The Chairman of Customs told me on 6 March 2000, having reviewed Mr B’s case, that Customs did not dispute that the bailiffs visit was erroneous and unwarranted. It was the result of a breakdown in communications between two sections of a local office. He said that to prevent this type of mistake happening again the local office had changed their systems. He said that Customs has apologised to Mr B by letter on three separate occasions; they had explained how the error had arisen and the steps taken to prevent a similar situation arising in the future.