Council owed almost £9m in unpaid tax

ALMOST £9m is owed to North Tyneside Council in unpaid council tax.

At a time when the local authority is looking to slash its spending by £17m over the next financial year, figures reveal that it is owed £8.8m in unpaid bills.

Measures have been introduced by the council over the last few years to help collect the money, with the authority now having its own in-house bailiff team.

Among those who have owed money in the past have been borough councillors.

In September, the News Guardian revealed that eight councillors – three Labour representatives and five Conservatives – had been sent reminder letters for late payment of council tax, owing between £119 and £1,453.

Despite the apparent size of the figure – more than half the sum the council is looking to slash from its budget this coming year – the authority collects more than 99 per cent of its council tax, ranking it among the best performers in the north east.

Although the £8.8m figure is higher than those of neighbouring authorities – twice the size of that for South Tyneside, for instance – officials at North Tyneside Council say that is due to the higher number of households in the borough.

And they remain confident that they will be able to claw back the money owed to them, rather than writing off the debt.

As well as making efforts to collect council tax, the authority also has measures in place to help households struggling to pay bills, especially after the excesses of Christmas.

A council spokesman said: “Every year, our council tax collection rate is in excess of 99 per cent, which outperforms other Tyne and Wear local authorities.

“Unlike other councils, we aim to collect every debt that is outstanding and do not write a debt off simply because of its age.

“It’s for this reason that our overall outstanding debt may appear higher than other councils.

“Every assistance is given to those who are struggling to pay at any point in the recovery cycle. However, for those who are simply unwilling to pay prompt recovery action is taken.

“Because we have an in-house bailiff team, we can take a holistic approach to the recovery of all council debts while ensuring that, wherever possible, liabilities are reduced and incomes maximised through claiming appropriate benefits, reliefs and entitlements.

“In fact, we were among the first to have a financial inclusion policy in place, and over 450 front-line staff have received awareness training provided by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to ensure anyone in difficulty can be provided with comprehensive advice and support.”

In November, borough mayor Linda Arkley announced that the council would be making £17m in cuts in its 2012-13 budget as the authority looks to save £50m over four years.

Mrs Arkley added that the council would not be increasing current council tax levels to help make ends meet.