£4 million of council tax unpaid in Bristol as courts issue 62 summonses a day
NEARLY £4 million of council tax is currently outstanding in Bristol – out of a total of nearly £50 million that the council has had to pursue through the courts in the last three years.
New figures have revealed that an average of 62 court summons a day were issued in the city in 2010 chasing people who had failed to pay up.
Figures released to the Evening Post after a Freedom of Information request show that between the start of 2008 and the end of last month the city council issued 73,077 summons, relating to more than £47 million in unpaid taxes.
In 2010, nearly £15 million was pursued through the courts, £16 million was chased in this way in 2009 and nearly £14 million in 2008.
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The unpaid tax amounts to about 10 per cent of the overall sum of council tax which should be collected by the authority each year – for example in 2009/2010 the collectable debt was £167 million.
For the council tax arrears noted up to the end of March 2010, £3.75 million is outstanding – but the total figure could be much more. The council was not able to tell the Evening Post exactly how much of the £47 million remains unpaid, because the latest figures have not been published.
The sum of unpaid tax is not an amount the council can currently afford not to have – earlier this week they approved its spending plan for the coming year, and the biggest cuts in its history.
The spending plan includes £28 million of cuts – just the first in a four-year plan that will see £70 million shed from the council's budget between now and 2015.
At least 340 council jobs are to go in the first year, in addition to 400 that have already gone by not replacing departing staff. There will be less money for the arts, for voluntary organisations, for school subsidies and pest control.
When someone fails to pay an instalment of their council tax on time, they are sent a reminder; if they fall behind again they are sent a second reminder.
But if it happens a third time a final notice is issued and their right to pay by instalments is withdrawn – if they then fail to pay the requested amount within the specified time they will receive a court summons.
The summons is an order to attend magistrates' court, where the council asks the magistrate to grant a liability order. This type of order gives the council the authority to collect the money owed using methods such as asking your employer to take the money from your salary, having the amount taken from your income support or Jobseeker's allowance, instructing bailiffs to remove items belonging to you and sell them, applying to make you bankrupt or applying to have you put in prison.
Councillor Mark Wright, cabinet member for efficiency and value for money, said: "There is a small minority of people who do not pay their council tax on time, but most of this money is in fact collected within 12 to 18 months. For the outstanding non-payers, our council tax collection teams take a robust approach, leading ultimately to the use of bailiffs or bankruptcy proceedings in a small number of cases.
"We do work with our residents to encourage prompt payment, however we are sensitive to those with problems paying due to the recession – thus our campaign to increase awareness of council tax benefits for those eligible."