Council tax debt worries

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A FINANCIAL worry that has hit cash-strapped Wiganers is an escalating problem across the country, according to new research.

Last month the Evening Post revealed that almost 27,000 residents in the borough had defaulted on their council tax bills.

Figures released by Citizens Advice said one in five people nationwide are reporting similar problems with their council tax.

The numbers have “rocketed” since council tax benefit was replaced by localised council tax support schemes, the charity added.

Charity chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Last year more than 90,000 people came to us looking for help with council tax arrears as they struggle in the face of low incomes, rising prices and reduced financial support.

“For some households council tax bills can be the tipping point that plunges them into debt.”

Wigan’s figures for the last financial year showed that on 26,943 occasions, court notifications due to non-payment were sent out by Wigan Council.

The previous year’s figure was 14,092. The council has this year brought in a council tax freeze as part of the Deal with residents to help it tackle the effects of budget cuts.

Mrs Guy added: “Consumer debts like credit cards and personal loans have traditionally been the most common debt problems that come through our doors, but since the end of Council Tax Benefit we’ve seen council tax arrears problems go through the roof.

“As their budgets shrink local authorities are increasingly stretched, but they must ensure that the resources available for their local Council Tax Support scheme are focussed on those who are most in need.”

According to the charity’s figures, between January and March 2014, 42 per cent of those approaching Citizens Advice for help with council tax arrears were employed.

Alison Mckenzie-Folan, director of customer transformation at Wigan Council, said help is at hand for those who may be struggling financially.

She said: “We will be working with different organisations to help residents improve their money management and support those who maybe struggling with their finances.”