Blackpool Council leader pledges to collect £10m in tax arrears

Blackpool Town Hall
Blackpool Town Hall
  • Council tax owed to Blackpool Council has more than doubled in the past five years
  • At the end of the 2010/11 financial year arrears stood at £4.83m
  • That figure had jumped to £10.52m by the end of 2014/15
  • November last year, arrears stood at £8.07m compared to £7.81m at the end of November 2014
  • Council chiefs expect to recover 98 per cent of what is owed to them over a five year period
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The amount of council tax owed to Blackpool Council has more than doubled in the past five years – to more than £10m.

Figures show at the end of the 2010/11 financial year arrears stood at £4.83m but that figure had jumped to £10.52m by the end of 2014/15 and is expected to be around the same level at the end of this financial year.

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn

Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn

At the end of November last year, arrears stood at £8.07m compared to £7.81m at the end of November 2014.

The rise has been partially blamed on more people struggling to pay their bills.

The number of people owing money also increased when changes were introduced in 2012 meaning fewer people were exempt from paying the charge.

But council chiefs say they expect to recover 98 per cent of what is owed to them over a five year period.

Every penny that is outstanding could be spent on providing services to the people of Blackpool

Simon Blackburn

However, as some debt is collected, fresh debts accumulate as other householders miss payments and have to be chased up.

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said: “Over a five year period we recover 98 per cent of the council tax that is owed to Blackpool Council.

“Obviously we would prefer it if everyone paid in full and on time but times are hard and we know that doesn’t always happen.

“The money from these bills helps to fund important services like repairing the roads we drive on, making sure that the bins are emptied on a regular basis and looking after vulnerable residents.

“At a time when the Government continues to reduce our central funding, recovering that money is extremely important.

“We persistently chase those who haven’t paid resulting in a 98 per cent collection over five years. There are always going to be the cases where the money can’t be recovered for example if someone dies or is declared bankrupt but where there is any chance of us recouping the money we will do.

“Every penny that is outstanding could be spent on providing services to the people of Blackpool.”

Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, said councils “desperately” needed the revenue from council tax but added it was important to support those struggling to pay.

He said: “I was shocked to learn council tax arrears had accumulated to such a serious amount and I understand this shortfall could affect the ability of the council to fulfil some of its essential duties.

“However the council cannot on the one hand blame the debt on a resident’s inability to pay bills, then on the other state they pay up immediately when threatened to be taken to court.

“These legal threats just worsen the situation as research says many of those under threat will take out high interest pay day loans to pay their council tax.

“Councils desperately need the revenue from council tax and they have a duty to collect. But I worry that tough enforcement and unaffordable demands pushes people into greater financial difficulty and is actually counter-productive especially affecting families with young children.”

Coun Williams added: “The fact nearly 20,000 residents have been summoned to court in Blackpool is clear evidence this council is failing to provide support to those who need it.

“Any resident struggling with their council tax payment can apply for a discretionary reduction, and families experiencing exceptional hardship should be encouraged to do so.

“Councils must look at these requests on a case-by-case basis.”

Figures gleaned through a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request show there are 18,553 people (not households) who owe money to the council, with the largest amount owed by a single individual being £2,549.

The FOI also reveals in 2014/15 19,935 people were summoned to appear in court over non-payment, compared to 12,113 in 2010/11 – but most of those cases do not result in an actual court appearance as usually people pay up when threatened with prosecution.

Other action taken when people fail to settle their bills is to seek payment arrangements to catch up the arrears, an attachment of earnings or an attachment of benefits which is a direct deduction under a court order, or as a last resort enforcement action is taken by agents used by the council.