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Bradford Council owed a staggering £27m in unpaid council tax
A staggering £26.7 million in council tax arrears is owed to Bradford Council, with £9m uncollected in 2012 alone, according to figures obtained by the Telegraph & Argus.
Debtors are now being warned that the Council will pursue arrears for as long as it takes to recover the money.
A new Council report on the problem also reveals that of the people with outstanding debts: l 30 per cent are being pursued by bailiffs l 25 per cent are paying back their debts l 15 per cent are paying back through docks to their benefits l five per cent are paying back through docks to their earnings l ten per cent have left their homes and are being traced and 15 per cent are facing legal action.
The report states that while progress was being made in collecting the debts, this could be hampered by changes to the welfare system and a decision to charge council tax on empty properties.
Together, these mean that far more people are now having to pay council tax.
The report, by Martin Stubbs, the Council’s assistant director for revenues, says: “An additional 27,000 new council tax payers, all of whom previously had no council tax to pay, now have a minimum of 25 per cent of the charge, and an additional 8,000 have had an increase in what they have to pay.
“Together with the decision to charge owners of empty dwellings additional council tax, this has resulted in the Council having to collect an additional £17 million in the current financial year; much of this debt will be difficult to collect from low-income households.”
The worst area for non-payment or arrears is the University area which includes the city ward, where residents collectively owed £811,762 last year, followed by Undercliffe with £521,751 and Toller at £484,017.
Council leader David Green said that Bradford’s figures might be higher than other local authorities because it would never write a debt off unless in exceptional circumstances.
Two warning letters are sent before any legal action and, as a last resort, bailiffs are called in.
Coun Green added that the Council supported people who were having difficulty paying if they got in touch.
“It is the very last resort that strong baliff action will be taken, but it will be taken and it has been,” he said. “I am concerned about any council tax arrears.
“We do bend over backwards to try to come to arrangements to agree a payment because we have a duty and a legal obligation to secure as much council tax into the council as we can, because it provides services that people need.
“Also we recognise that the vast majority of the district do pay their council tax. We are always clawing arrears back and some of it takes months or years.
“I do think as people’s personal circumstances get more strained and many people are having to make choices where to spend their money, council tax comes down the list. But we need to continue to press ahead to collect as much council tax as we possibly can.
“We will continue to pursue any arrears because it does affect the Council’s financial position and its ability to deliver services.”
The overall rise in council tax debt is down to the total being rolled over each year to be collected and does not mean there has been a big rise in arrears, the Council has explained.
The figures also show that last year 27,563 magistrate liability court orders were issued, and 744 applications for a committal summons.
A liability order is one granted by the Court which gives the Council additional powers to collect debts, such as taking a direct payment out of the person’s benefits or salary, or even referring cases to bailiffs. A committal summons is a summons to the magistrates’ court to face committal proceedings which could ultimately result in prison. People still have the opportunity even at this stage to make an offer for payment.
But Glen Miller, the leader of the Conservatives group on the Labour-run Council, said the authority did not use enforcement action vigorously enough.
Councillor Miller said: “The debt has gone up under a Labour-controlled council significantly. Also areas of the Council are under-resourced such as housing benefit and council tax and they are over-resourcing parks and landscapes, plus £500,000 for union officials’ work.”
Councillor Nazam Azam (Lab, City), said that the figures in the university area seemed very high considering students were exempt from paying council tax.
“It is worrying but we are going through tough financial times,” he said. The Council does allow people enough time for their council tax to be paid, so it is a shame there are so many despite people being given these opportunities.”
Ruqayyah Collector (City), one of the five Respect councillors who are temporarily acting as independents due to an internal row, added: “The figures don’t come as a surprise as City ward has one of the worst levels of deprivation and unemployment across the district.
“Many constituents have been hard hit by the welfare reforms and are struggling to make ends meet.
“The Council is right to pursue non-payment, alongside providing debt advice and the option of paying in instalments.”
Eleanor McGrath, campaign manager of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “It’s deeply worrying how much money is owed in uncollected council tax to Bradford Council.
“After a decade of council tax hikes it’s hardly surprising that there has been an increase in people struggling to pay their bills and help should be available for these people to make it easier to pay.
“For those who refuse to pay, the Council must do all they can to stop this type of behaviour so taxpayers are not left footing the bill.”
The problem is due to be discussed at a meeting of the corporate overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday.
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