Town hall chases missing millions

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WIGAN Council is owed more than £4m in unpaid council tax and non-domestic rates.

But while that’s a lot of money of which the cash-strapped local authority is being deprived, that figure is in fact the fifth best in Greater Manchester in terms of the percentage of people paying up.

Town hall officials have only been able to gather 96 per cent of the tax owed, leaving a shortfall of £4.4m over the last financial year - money it could well do with in these difficult times.

That said, the borough’s performance has improved in the last 12 months.

This time last year there was a total of £6.3m going uncollected in the borough.

Salford, Manchester, Tameside, Rochdale and Oldham were owed more than Wigan’s council up to March 31 this year, with 92.1 per cent; 92.9 per cent; 95.1 per cent and 95.7 per cent tax collected respectively.

But while the borough is accruing more tax than some ares in the region, the national average is 97.4 per cent.

Penny Higgins, award and taxation business manager at Wigan Council, said: “The income we receive from council tax pays for the vital public services people across the borough rely upon. That means it is extremely important we collect the money owed to us.

“Our collection rates are improving. We collected 96 per cent of council tax within the year for the period 2012/2013.

“We also collected an additional £2.1m of council tax outstanding from previous years.

“During the last year we have worked hard to ensure we take appropriate and timely action to quickly recover unpaid bills.

“We have also enhanced the options and flexibility we offer to taxpayers to help them pay. We recognise many people face financial pressure so we’ve increased payment options.

“We now offer two additional Direct Debit dates in the month and many households now pay weekly or fortnightly, which helps them manage their budgets.”

But the government warns more could be done, stressing a higher collection rate could prevent service cuts.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles (left) said that despite an improvement in collection rates across the country, he there was still £2bn not collected last year.

He added: “Every penny uncollected means a high council tax for the law-abiding taxpayer who does pay on time. These figures show the scope for sensible savings in local government.”

Greater Manchester council chiefs generally stress that the figures only relate to what is collected within the financial year and insist that they get virtually everything in the end.

But the Government warns that more can be done, pointing out that a higher collection rate could prevent cuts to services.