Region counts cost of uncollected tax
UNCOLLECTED council tax in Suffolk is costing each household more than £20 a year - and a staggering £18.7 million across East Anglia.The giant figure has emerged in a probe aimed at exposing local authority waste and highlighting the cost of tax cheats to law-abiding residents.
UNCOLLECTED council tax in Suffolk is costing each household more than £20 a year - and a staggering £18.7 million across East Anglia.
The giant figure has emerged in a probe aimed at exposing local authority waste and highlighting the cost of tax cheats to law-abiding residents.
In the past year, the amount of money collected by authorities in the region increased by nearly £100,000 - but the total outstanding is still £18.7m.
Reg Hartles, chairman of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, called for greater efforts in recouping the missing millions.
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He said: “We cannot afford to have this amount of money owing to the councils but you have to ask, why is it missing?
“There will always be those who don't pay even if they can. They just don't want to pay their way - and this has to be clamped down on because the money could be used to invest in services or keep future rises down to the rate of inflation.
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“But there are also those who can't afford to pay because they struggle financially and the councils need to help these people. There are systems in place but maybe they could do more.
“We should also gee up the government in some way because part of the problem is they are not giving us enough grant so council tax increases.”
Justin Bowden, of the GMB Union, who carried out the investigation, said: “The GMB is not prepared to see people cheating the system to the detriment of our members and at the expense of the local tax payer.
“If this money had been collected by the councils, it could have been used to improve our services or hold down the level of council tax.”
St Edmundsbury was the best performing council in Suffolk, collecting an extra £250,000 in 2005/06 - slashing the amount that went uncollected from just over £1m in 2004/05 to about £750,000.
But Waveney finished bottom of the list - losing out on £1.5m in the last financial year, compared to around £950,000 in 2004/05.
Last night, councils defended the vast sums that have gone unpaid, saying collections are constantly ongoing, meaning the figures quoted are continuing to be reduced.
A spokesman for Waveney blamed last year's poor performance on teething problems with a new revenues and benefits computer system.
“Although our collection rate dropped from 97.6% in 2004/05 to 96% in 2005/06 this was to be expected following the downtime during transition to a brand new IT system and team restructuring,” he said.
“Nevertheless, early figures for 2006-07 show that collections are now higher than the average for the past five years and thanks to the new system we are confident of meeting our targets for the whole financial year.”
But a spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury said a new a computer had helped recoup more unpaid bills.
“The introduction of new computer software coupled with the hard work of our staff has helped us to improve our Council Tax collection rates,” she said.
“We collect 99.7% of all Council Tax and pursue any debt rigorously over a period of several years, using every recovery method available to us.
“We have a small provision in our budget for non-collection which means there is no knock-on effect on other services.”
Local authorities have a range of powers to pursue those who do not pay council tax, which include issuing reminders, taking legal action through the courts, using attachments to earnings and benefit payments and in extreme circumstances some may use bailiffs.
There are currently more than 310,000 council tax payers in Suffolk.
Authority Uncollected Uncollected Change
council tax council tax
St Edmundsbury £1,023,000 £765,000 £258,000
Mid Suffolk £655,000 £588,000 £67,000
Forest Heath £422,000 £361,000 £61,000
Suffolk Coastal £962,000 £914,000 £48,000
Babergh £471,000 £435,000 £36,000
Ipswich £1,386,000 £1,728,000 -£342,000
Waveney £938,000 £1,595,000 -£657,000
East Anglia £18,878,000 £18,791,000 £87,000
*Figures from the GMB