More than £11m owed in council tax

PUBLISHED: 08:00 29 July 2015

Money.

Money.

Archant

PEOPLE in North Somerset owe more than £11million in unpaid council tax and are said to be facing ‘serious consequences’, including visits from bailiffs, anxiety and sleepless nights.

North Somerset Council is owed some £11,771,000 in unpaid tax – the highest amount of unpaid bills out of every local authority in Somerset – and according to one charity, the problem has been made worse by a council rule which means residents must pay a minimum of 24.5 per cent of their bill.

The amount of money owed is so large it could pay for 318 primary school teachers or for more than 235,000 potholes to be fixed.

The figures were revealed by the National Debtline charity. Its spokesman Jane Tully said: “The consequences of falling behind with council tax can be serious – you could be facing direct deductions from your wages to recoup the debt, or even a visit from the bailiff.

“Debt can also impact upon a person’s physical and mental health – many people suffer sleepless nights and anxiety from worrying about their finances. Your credit rating could also be affected which may make it harder to borrow money in the future.”

On average, each household in North Somerset owes £126 in unpaid council tax.

A council spokesman said: “The £11million owed is the gross amount of arrears and includes enforcement costs which may remain outstanding.

“We do not want to write debt off if we think we can collect it and we work to ensure income is maximised and debt is collected.

“We have a duty to collect as much council tax as possible as it makes a vital contribution to the services we provide. Our collection rate for the last financial year was more than 98 per cent.

“The council is conscious of how it collects the debt and will continue to offer help to those having difficulty paying, and will also take action against those who won’t pay.”

The North Somerset branch of social charity the Citizens Advice Bureau (NSCAB) said many people in the area had been affected by the abolition of council tax benefit in April 2013.

National laws brought in during 2013 mean people who previously received council tax benefit are now required to pay a percentage of their council tax and, in North Somerset, that percentage is set at 24.5 per cent – although some people are exempt.

NSCAB’s Holly Young surveyed several North Somerset residents who receive council tax support to assess the impact of the new rules.

She said: “56 per cent of the people we surveyed are in council tax arrears and have had relationship problems since the abolition of the council tax benefit, which I think is terrible.

“Another point I found interesting was that of those in arrears, 41 per cent described themselves as confident in managing their money – suggesting it is not mismanagement of finances, but the inability to pay the minimum contribution of 24.5 per cent set by the council which is causing problems.”

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