Millions in council tax uncollected
COUNCILS are failing to collect millions of pounds in tax, new figures show.
The £27.4 million of arrears for local authorities in the Bristol area was revealed amid sweeping cuts to local services.
The biggest total was in Bristol, where the total backlog stood at just under £11 million. If collected, this would be the equivalent of a £50 tax cut for each of the city's 188,500 households.
Tory MP Charlotte Leslie called on the city council to "get its house in order", saying the cash could have been spent on care homes and community facilities.
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Government ministers seized on the figures, revealed following a Parliamentary question, to claim that councils had other options than cutting services when their funding was squeezed.
But the city council said it "made every effort" to collect the amounts it was owed, including calling in bailiffs.
Much of the debt is thought to date back a number of years and council chiefs insisted they collected the vast majority of bills. Some payment is received after the end of the financial year, the Local Government Association said.
But Ms Leslie, the MP for Bristol North West, said: "Just imagine what £10.8 million can afford in terms of keeping care homes open, services on the ground and vital community facilities – for example activities and sport and play equipment for young people.
"The council really needs to get its house in order, and I'm hoping this is the kind of thing an elected mayor can really get to grips with."
Tory local government minister Bob Neill said: "Every penny of council tax that is not collected means a higher council tax for the law-abiding citizen who does pay on time.
"These figures show that there is a significant source of income which councils could use to support frontline service or cut council tax bills."
A city council spokesman said: "We have an ongoing responsibility to all council tax payers to make every effort to collect amounts owing to the council."
He said this included reminders, summonses and instructing bailiffs, although this extreme measure was only used in less than ten per cent of cases.
The government has made much of the freeze in bills put in place by most local authorities, and has changed the law so that any authority that wants to raise bills by more than 3.5 per cent has to first hold a referendum to ask bill-payers' permission.
Nonetheless, last week debt charities reported a sharp rise in the number of people asking for help with their council tax arrears.
And the squeeze on bill-payers is likely to increase under a shake-up of council tax benefit.
Whitehall is handing councils the responsibility for managing the support given to hard-up households – and is demanding a ten per cent saving. Pensioners will be protected, leaving 55,000 households across the Greater Bristol area in the firing line.