8,768 Preston households owe millions in council tax arrears

Lisa Bolton, who is the head of the debt team at Lancashire West CAB
Lisa Bolton, who is the head of the debt team at Lancashire West CAB
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Cash-strapped Preston Council is owed millions in unpaid taxes, the Evening Post can reveal.

According to an Freedom of Information request received last month, 8,768 households - or one in seven of those eligible - owed £5.742m in unpaid council tax. Town hall bosses have said that payments have since been made and amounts are now lower at £3,009m.

By comparison, South Ribble Council was owed £2.446m from 6,793 homes or 13.9 per cent of homes. Chorley Borough Council was owed £1,629,009 by 4,597 households.

Totals are cumulative and include money owed from the start of council tax in 1993.

Adrian Robinson, deputy director of revenues at Preston Council, said: “We are responsible for collecting over £59million in council tax every year and the vast majority of people, in fact over 99 per cent pay the council tax that is due.

“Council tax pays for key public services such as education, transport, health and housing so it is vital we collect as much as possible. We pursue all reasonable methods to collect council tax owing. For those people who are genuinely struggling with their bills, we can offer more flexible payment terms, as well as refer people to the Welfare Benefits and Debt Advice Service.

“There are though, a small minority of people who simply refuse to pay and it is these people that we pursue rigorously through the court system, resulting in enforcement action via enforcement agents, attachments to earnings or benefit, insolvency proceedings, charging orders or the possibility of a prison sentence.”

Last year the council instructed bayliffs in 2,830 cases, but no goods were recovered.

Coun Peter Wilson, deputy leader of Chorley Council, said: “We have seen a significant increase in the number of homes built in the area in recent years and there have been changes to the welfare benefits system, the introduction of council tax support and changes to council tax discounts which have all had an impact on the numbers of people with a council tax liability.”

The number of people summonsed to court for non-payment of council tax in Chorley during 2014-15 was 6,086, rising 1.25 per cent from 6,009 in 2013-14.

Coun Wilson added: “We all have a responsibility to pay council tax. Indeed we do have an excellent council tax collection rate here in Chorley, typically around 98 per cent collected each year. However, there are people who do struggle to pay and if anyone finds themselves in that position, I’d urge them to get in touch with us on 01257 515151 as soon as possible as we can offer help and advice, alongside signposting to independent financial advice.”

Coun Caroline Moon, South Ribble Council cabinet member with responsibility for corporate support said: “South Ribble Borough Council collects over 99 per cent of all council tax that is due. We use all available methods to collect amounts owed and continue to collect council tax arrears during subsequent months and years.”

Lisa Bolton, head of the debt team at Lancashire West Citizens’ Advice Bureau said she had seen a “dramatic increase” in the number of clients worried about council tax debt, in particular since the introduction the council tax reduction scheme, which has replaced the council tax benefit system for the vast majority of claimants.

However, she said the main cause of growing council tax debt is a matter of low income.