Council tax arrears have risen by nearly a third over the past year to a whopping £12.8 million.
As of the first week of March 2014, arrears owing to Kirklees Council stood at £12,880,470. This compares with £9,845,555 as at April 2013.
According to its own figures, the council collected over 97% of all council tax due in 2012/13. However, the collection rate has fallen to less than 78% in the latest published figures, which cover April 2013 to January 28, 2014.
The council takes extensive measures to recover the debt with three sets of reminders being sent out before the final step of a court summons. If the court finds in the council’s favour, a liability order is issued and the householder must pay court costs as well as outstanding council tax.
According to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the number of prosecutions is rising dramatically in Kirklees.
From April to September 2012, there were almost 13,000 summonses issued. This rose to more than 20,000 for the same period in 2013, resulting in over 14,500 liability orders.
A spokesman for Kirklees Council said: “We take every step available to us to ensure prompt recovery of unpaid debt.
“We we use all of the recovery methods available to collect any outstanding debt.
“This includes court action which enables the council to use bailiffs, attach people’s earnings or benefits, put charging orders on properties and, in very extreme cases, pursue committal to prison for up to 90 days and issue insolvency proceedings.
“We have a good record of taking strong recovery action to make the council tax charge as fair as possible, ensuring that everyone who should pay does so. We only write off arrears in circumstances where it appears it would not be cost effective to collect or the debtor has absconded.”
The Government change to council tax benefit in April 2013, as part of its welfare reforms, is one reason for the increase in the number of debtors.
It devolved responsibility for council tax benefits to local authorities, while reducing the funding by 10%, capped housing benefits and introduced the “bedroom tax.”
The total amount of council tax collected by Kirklees in 2012/13 was almost £162m. Most properties in the borough are in Bands A and B: 82,634 homes in band A and 33,763 in band B. Kirklees’ council tax remains frozen for 2014/15.
More information for those in difficulties is at http://www.kirklees.gov.uk/you-kmc/payments/counciltax/councilTaxProblems.aspx ”
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