Suffolk: Council chiefs are chasing up more than £9m in unpaid council tax bills

More than £9million is due to councils across Suffolk in unpaid council tax bills.

More than £9million is due to councils across Suffolk in unpaid council tax bills. - Credit: PA

MORE THAN £9million in council tax was not collected last year, we can reveal today.

The startling figure represents a rise of nearly £3m in just five years across Suffolk.

But district and borough chiefs last night defended the unpaid bills, insisting fair and efficient collection methods ensured high rates of council tax payments.

The EADT has previously reported how £6.2m worth of council tax went uncollected in 2006/07 in Suffolk and the news figures show the total amount now stands at £9,018,481.

At the end of the 2011/12 financial year, Waveney District Council was owed £1,312,625; Suffolk Coastal District Council had arrears of £553,455.63; St Edmundsbury Borough Council was down £886,752.83 and Forest Heath District Council was left £745,151.03 out of pocket.

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Meanwhile, on December 31, 2012, Mid Suffolk District Council had arrears of £1,648,402, Babergh District Council was down £677,546 and Ipswich Borough Council was owed £3,194,549.

More than 125,000 reminders were issued, leading to around 16,000 families facing legal action.

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Eleanor McGrath, campaign manager of TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Residents in Suffolk will be shocked to find that such a large sum is outstanding, although it’s no wonder some are struggling to pay their council tax after a decade of hikes.

“It’s important that town halls differentiate between those who are avoiding paying and those who can’t afford to.

“The latter should be helped with easier ways to pay, while the former should be pursued for outstanding bills, otherwise taxpayers are left picking up the tab.”

The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request submitted by the EADT.

A Suffolk Coastal spokesman said: “Suffolk Coastal’s council tax collection team have an excellent record in collecting council tax.

“Our in-year collections rate is usually around 98.4%, but we of course continue to collect unpaid amounts after the end of the year, either by making arrangements with the bill-payer to collect in instalments or by taking whatever enforcement action is necessary.

“This means that our collection rate for 2010/11 is 99.5% – that’s just over £373,000 in outstanding payments are still to be collected out of a total amount raised of nearly £67m.

“Our ongoing outstanding record of success when it comes to collecting council tax shows that we have got our tough but fair collection policy just about right, and we would thank the tens of thousands of our residents who do pay on time.

“We also work equally hard to ensure that those who struggling to make payments get the advice they need to receive any benefit support they may be entitled to.”

A St Edmundsbury spokesman said: “We pursue payment until there is no hope of collecting. So although 1.6% of the money owed by people on their 2011/2012 council tax bill was unpaid at the end of the year, that will reduce as we continue to chase collection.

“Our collection service is provided through the Anglia Revenues Partnership and our collection target is 100%. Our recovery methods we use – and their proportionality – and the collection rates we achieve is evidence of their effectiveness.”

Ipswich Borough Council councillor Martin Cook, resources portfolio-holder, said: “Ipswich Borough Council has a reputation as a very successful collector of council tax and we will keep on trying to collect unpaid tax however long it takes as long as it is economically viable.

“That is good business and is only fair to the vast majority who pay their council tax.”

An Ipswich Borough Council spokesman said: “Currently 64% of residents pay by direct debit which is the easiest method and we do encourage people to do this.”

Last year it was announced that the amount of uncollected council tax on a national scale – much dating back several years – stands at £2.3billion.

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