More houses give a council tax boost

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

Council coffers have been given a boost thanks to new homes being built around the borough.

A total of £126.2m is due to be paid in council tax to Wigan Council in 2016/17 - an increase of 3.78 per cent from the £121.6m owed last year.

A report prepared for tomorrow’s meeting of the council’s audit, governance and improvement review committee said there were now more properties in the borough for council tax payments.

It states: “The number of residential dwellings on our council tax list has risen by over 750 during the course of the past 12 months owing largely to new build developments. This increases the amount of council tax income, offset by any increase in demand for council tax reduction, additional demand for council services or other discounts and reductions.”

The report also highlights council tax reduction payments and empty properties around the borough.

It reads: “The number of council tax reduction claimants has steadily reduced indicating improved employment in the borough. The number of properties left empty at any given time has also reduced. Whilst not increasing income to the council this reduces the demand on the council, owners, neighbours and the emergency services for dealing with problems associated with empty properties.”

The amount of council tax collected in the current financial year is on target to match the 95 per cent collected last year. Some £103.7m has already been paid, which is 82.2 per cent of the money owed.

The council’s customer services team aims for a 99 per cent collection rate and procedures to recover unpaid council tax are based on “positive engagement” such as payment plans, the report said. When this is not possible, actions include attachment of earnings orders, enforcement agents, deductions from benefits and tracing people who have absconded without paying.

The report says the council has worked with external enforcement agents to trace defaulters from 2011 to 2015 and £200k has been recovered in the past six months alone.

An in-house enforcement agency will launch this year to help people struggling to pay.“The agents employed in house will be able to offer a more holistic service of support and welfare to those debtors identified as more vulnerable and to harness the opportunity a contact with the debtor gives to address their needs as well as recover unpaid monies,” the report said.

A total of 21,718 court summons have been issued in the current financial year, compared to 25,287 last year.

Council assistant director for customer services Lesley O’Halloran said: “We work hard to keep residents’ council tax low and is the second lowest council tax across Greater Manchester. But for some people even this can become too much to cope with. For many years we have been working with partners to try and encourage those who get into financial difficulties to get help when they face debts, rather than ignoring the problem until it becomes too much. The council wants to offer a more holistic approach to those people who want to pay but find it difficult. Early intervention of support and help can bring about a long term benefit to those who need it and reduce pressure on the intensive support services available to those in crisis. The new team will help to keep people healthier, happier and supported by offering help such as claiming all their eligible benefits.”