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Bury St Edmunds: Council reveals millions of pounds of taxes not collected

12:10 08 February 2013

West Suffolk House in Bury which is home to St Edmundsbury Borough Council

West Suffolk House in Bury which is home to St Edmundsbury Borough Council

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MILLIONS of pounds in rates and debt have not been collected in St Edmundsbury – leading to claims that some people are getting away with not paying their taxes.

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About £3.2million of council taxes, business rates and sundry debts have not been paid over the last seven years, with nearly £7m more still owed for the current financial year.

Councillors said the level of debts and unpaid council tax, which stretches back to 2005, means some are “dodging the column” but officials said they remain committed to collecting as much of the outstanding money as possible.

The revelations come in a report to St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s cabinet that recommends writing off a total of £198,004 of those uncollected debts.

David Nettleton, independent councillor for Risbygate, said the situation was a “concern”.

He added: “It seems to me that people are not paying their taxes. Everyone should be paying. It’s like the principle of parking.

“Why should some people park in Springfield Road free when everyone else is paying to park in the car park?

“In terms of council tax or whatever service, there has to be a charge, otherwise the people who are as good as gold and pay up are paying to cover someone else’s service.

“I don’t really want to do that and I can’t imagine any of my 3,000 electors saying that either. These are people just dodging the column.”

According to the documents, which will be presented to cabinet on February 13, it will be recommended that £20,819 of council tax is written off from the outstanding bill.

A total of £2,142,169 is owed over the last seven years with £123,637 still owed from 2005/06. A sum of £3,105,349 is owed for this year, of which £4,877 is proposed to be written off. Nearly £800,000 is owed in business rates, with £3,248,648 still outstanding from this year. It is proposed that £47,188 be written off this year, with £51,962 being written off for the preceding financial year.

A total of £318,875 is owed in outstanding debts, with £890,183 still unaccounted for this year. Just £2,557 has been proposed as a write off, all of which is against 2011/12 figures.

Mr Nettleton, who said it is hard to chase money after time has lapsed, also expressed concern about sundry debts.

He added: “Why are they not all being collected pre-paid so you don’t have debts? That’s the way to deal with it, then you don’t need a recovery system because you have the money before you step foot out of the depot. I don’t see why that hasn’t happened.”

Dave Ray, portfolio holder for performance and resources, described St Edsmundsbury’s collection rates as “pretty good” and said there was still a couple of months to collect debts from 2012/13.

He added: “Our collection rates, business rates and council tax collection performance is pretty good. We’re looking at about 98%. Inevitably, as we’ve seen the news recently, big national chains have gone under, some of which still owe us business rates and we’re not going to see that, probably.

“A lot of the reason for the non-payment of non-domestic rates is because small companies have gone into liquidation and so on. We chase them up and we’re pretty successful, but when you get to the end of the line and someone has died or gone into liquidation and there’s no prospect of getting the money, then we write it off.”

Mr Ray, who acknowledged that it is a “difficult economic time for many”, said if people move away from the area without paying what is owed, their debts – although written off – will remain on file in case they return.

Addressing sundry debts, Mr Ray said that St Edmundsbury is preparing to move to a pay-up-front system for their services.

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