SWINDON: Homeowners in Swindon owe the council £10.5million in unpaid council tax according to new figures from a debt charity.
But Swindon Borough Council has revealed it has one of the best records among authorities for collecting council tax debts, and is continuing to pursue debts from more than 20 years ago.
The figures, included in newly-published data published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, show that residents in the borough owed £10.5 million in unpaid council tax bills at March 31. This represents an increase from £10.3 million for the previous year.
National Debtline, the free advice service run by the Money Advice Trust, said the fact that so much council tax debt is still outstanding is a further sign that residents would benefit from help in tackling their financial problems.
The warning comes after council tax in the borough rose by 3.98 per cent – with the average bill for a Band D household amounting to £1460.09 for 2016/17, compared to £1404.22 for 2015/16.
The charity said it receives around 150 calls each year from residents in Swindon seeking advice on how to resolve their debt problems, and expects that this number could increase– with higher council tax bills adding to the pressure for many households who already have stretched budgets.
They revealed that council tax is now the fastest growing type of problem debt it is helping clients to resolve – with 25 percent of all callers now in arrears, up from 14 percent in 2007.
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “The level of unpaid council tax in Swindon remains a concern. With people in the area now paying 3.98 per cent more in council tax than they were this time last year, there is a risk that residents who are already behind will find it even more difficult to resolve their financial difficulty.
“Council tax is vital in funding the essential local services that we all rely on, and local authorities are already under significant financial pressure – so it is in everyone’s interests that arrears are repaid.
“We would urge all councils to do everything they can to ensure that residents in difficulty are signposted to free advice that will help them get back on track.
“Anyone in and around Swindon who is finding it hard to make their council tax payments should contact National Debtline or a local agency such as Citizens Advice as early as possible. The earlier you seek free advice, the quicker and easier the problem will be to solve.” But a spokesman for Swindon Borough Council disputed the charity’s claims.
He said: “We have one of the best records among all local authorities in collecting what we are owed in council tax.
“Our collection rate has been over 98 per cent for a number of years and this is continuing to improve. At the same time, we are reducing the number of times we issue court summonses to residents for unpaid council tax thanks to a number of new initiatives to help people who are genuinely struggling to pay. “The figure given by the charity is misleading as it is the total amount we are owed for the past 23 years to 1993, and we still recover debts even from as far back as that.”