Central Beds has highest council tax debt

OF the 47 councils in the eastern region, Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) recorded the highest amount in uncollected council tax for 2010/11, according to Government figures.

CBC failed to collect �3,357,000 in council tax, as well as �1,242,000 in business rates – totalling �4,599,000 and ranking the unitary authority third overall for uncollected taxes in the region.

With a total of �3,314,000 in uncollected council tax and business rates, Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) is ranked sixth overall.

North Herts District Council (NHDC) is ranked 26th, with a total of �1,549,000 in uncollected taxes.

Paul Hayes, regional secretary for the public services union GMB, said the uncollected debt is “a scandal and a disgrace at a time when vital services for our elderly and our children are being slashed due to government cuts in funding”.

He continued: “Feeble excuses about being unable to collect these taxes no longer wash.

“Urgent reforms to assist hard pressed council staff to collect these taxes are long overdue.”

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CBC’s executive member for corporate resources, Cllr Maurice Jones, said that collection rates are constantly changing and are “just a snapshot in time”, with the council generally collecting 97.6 per cent of council tax in the current year.

“We pursue debts vigorously and collect the majority of any debts outstanding at the year end in the following year,” he added.

SBC’s executive member for resources, Cllr Joan Lloyd, said: “While this figure shows an amount uncollected for 2010/11, we expect that, as in previous years, 99.5 per cent of the money owed to us will be collected.”

She added: “These figures are further evidence that the town continues to feel the effects of the recession. This is also demonstrated in the increase we have seen in benefit applications.”

NHDC’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for finance, Cllr Terry Hone, said: “Every effort is made to ensure all outstanding council tax is collected in a timely manner and as cost effectively as possible.”

However, he continued: “With the continuing effect of the economic climate on family budgets, the council fully appreciates that customers sometimes have difficulty paying their council tax.”

He said the council “has to strike a fine balance” between ensuring maximum collection of council tax, safeguarding the interests of those who do pay, and helping those who have difficulty paying.