£2.5m council tax arrears debt

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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Almost £2.5 million is owed in council tax arrears in South Ribble.

The shock figure has been revealed by South Ribble Borough Council where almost 14 per cent of Council Tax payers are currently in arrears.

The latest figures show 6,793 people are in arrears - 13.9 per cent of payers.

Arrears - from 1993 to 2015 - presently stand at £2,446,659.

The largest amount of money owed by an individual is £13,321.49.

The council says it has been taking a range of actions in an effort to recover the money it is owed.

These include repayment arrangements, attachment of earnings, deductions from benefits, referral to an enforcement agency, charging orders, bankruptcy and committal to prison.

As regards the number of people who were summonsed over the last five years, the figures were: 2010/11 – 3,149; 2011/12 – 3,395; 2012/13 – 2,788; 2013/14 – 4,379; 2014/15 – 3,853.

A total of £7,306,573 was collected as a result of court action.

The figures are for the breakdown of arrears at end of the last five financial years are: 2010/11 – 1,235,210; 2011/12 – 1,259,762; 2012/13 – 1,202,751; 2013/14 – 1,369,309; 2014/15 – 1,405,625.

Coun Caroline Moon, the council’s 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.”

Lancashire West Citizens Advice Bureau, which operates from four locations across Lancashire - Leyland, Chorley, Skelmersdale and Fleetwood - has help and advice for those people who are struggling with debt.

Lisa Bolton, head of the debt team, said: “Lancashire West CAB debt team have seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients worried about Council Tax debt, in particular since the introduction the Council Tax reduction scheme. This scheme has replaced the Council Tax benefit system for the vast majority of claimants.

“This now means that all individuals, whether they are on means-tested benefits or not, have to make a contribution towards their Council Tax bill, which previously they did not have to make.

“Worryingly, the specialists have also experienced clients coming to bureau who were unaware that they have to pay any Council Tax until they received reminders from the council. This is despite information provided by the council itself. In other words, a lack of understanding of these changes appears to have contributed to the debt problem.

“For many however, the main cause of growing Council Tax debt is simply a matter of low income. The reality remains for a large proportion of the clients we see that a minimal income means insufficient money to budget for essential bills and weekly food, now plus extra money to find for their Council Tax bill.

“This results in further increasing debt, often leading to action by enforcement officers and in many cases people not having enough money to buy food.”