CASH-STRAPPED Wigan residents have defaulted on their council tax bills in record numbers, shocking figures reveal.
Statistics obtained by the Evening Post reveal the number of court summonses issued by Wigan Council has nearly doubled since last year.
On almost 27,000 occasions court notifications due to non-payment were sent in 2013/14, compared with 14,092 the year before.
Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue said the severe increase is in part due to cuts to council tax support for local authorities.
She said: “When government handed the responsibility for administering council tax support to local authorities, it cut hundreds of millions in funding for it.
“The shortfall between the money councils receive to fund council tax support and the money we would need to protect those on low incomes is getting bigger and I warned at the time that this move would lead to an increased number of court summonses due to council tax becoming payable for people on the lowest incomes, including carers and the disabled.
“Local government minister Eric Pickles chose to ignore those warnings leaving local councils, like Wigan, in a false economy of chasing
relatively small amounts of arrears through the courts.
“The reality of this reform is that ministers withheld the funding needed to provide council tax support and ensure that decisions over council tax and discounts are truly localised.”
Greater Manchester Conservative Federation chairman Michael Winstanley hit back, claiming Wigan’s Labour cabinet must take responsibility for the 26,943 issued summonses.
He said: “It should be remembered that the council voted to increase council tax last year when it could have chosen to freeze them.
“Once again the Labour Party are trying to pin their failures on the Government. They keep bleating that they want more freedom and yet when they get the opportunity to administer things locally, they make a mess of it.
“This is their scheme and if people aren’t paying, it is Labour’s fault. If they aren’t up to the job they should hand over the running of the council to a party that could get on with it without blaming anyone else.”
Wigan Council has brought in a council tax freeze for the next financial year as part of their Deal with residents to help it tackle the effects of budget cuts.
Alison Mckenzie-Folan, director of customer transformation at Wigan Council, said it is crucial that tax bills are collected in order for the authority to deliver its services effectively.
She added: “The government’s welfare reforms mean some people who previously did not pay council tax now have to pay a small amount. Also, some people who previously paid only a small amount are being asked to contribute more. We understand this may cause some people difficulty.
“Failure to pay council tax is a serious offence but the council is also committed to supporting those people experiencing money difficulties. We’re about to launch a major marketing campaign to encourage people to avoid getting into debt and we’ll be working with different organisations to help residents improve their money management and support those who maybe struggling with their finances.”