Arrears in council tax reach £6.7m as cuts bite

CASH-STRAPPED Wigan Council has failed to collect more than £6.7m in unpaid council tax, while slashing jobs and services, we can reveal.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show the authority is owed more than £2.2m in council tax from 2009/10.

And the authority has a backlog of more than £6.7m in council tax arrears since its introduction in 1993.

The news comes as council chiefs this week agreed to an extra £27m in cuts, on top of the £20m already planned.

Up to 820 jobs will go over the next three years.

Leader of the Opposition Independents Coun Gary Wilkes voiced concerns at the alarming amount of cash still owed to the council.

Coun Wilkes said: “The high volume of unpaid council tax is alarming, but under the present financial climate not surprising one bit.

“If people do fall behind paying, not only their council tax, but any bill, they should ask for help and assistance ASAP, rather than ignoring the fact they are struggling to pay.

“The council does expect some people to fall behind from time to time, but they will spread payments to help.”

In total, local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales failed to collect £530m in council tax last year.

Town hall bosses have pointed out that these figures represent less than two per cent of all council tax, and say they are continually clearing arrears.

But despite collection rates often being above 98 per cent, millions of pounds are still going unpaid and uncollected each year.

Joanna Kennedy, the chief executive of Z2K, a charity which helps people with council tax debts, says the arrears collection process is often slowed down by administrative problems.

She said: “Local authority computer systems are riddled with errors and so details of non-payers are often sent to the magistrates’ courts, when perhaps legal action isn’t appropriate. There is poor communication between the council tax collection offices and the council tax benefits offices, which means people entitled to benefits are instead listed as debtors.”

Baroness Margaret Eaton, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities in England and Wales, says councils have an excellent record.