Hartlepool residents owe almost £5m in unpaid council tax, shock new figures have revealed.
Those living in the town owed a total of £4,855,000 in unpaid bills as of March 31 this year – equivalent to an average of £114 per dwelling.
Although we have faced a significant reduction in the amount of central government funding we receive we have been able to limit the cut to our Local Council Tax Support Scheme to 12% in the past two years – the lowest cut in the Tees Valley.Chris Little, chief finance officer at Hartlepool Borough Council
The figure, highlighted by National Debtline, the free advice service run by the Money Advice Trust, is up from £3,825,000 on last year.
Durham County Council meanwhile is owed just over £23.9m, down from £27,387,000 last year.
A total of 81 calls for help with debt were made from the Hartlepool area to National Debtline last year.
Chris Little, chief finance officer at Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “Although we have faced a significant reduction in the amount of central government funding we receive we have been able to limit the cut to our Local Council Tax Support Scheme to 12% in the past two years – the lowest cut in the Tees Valley.
“This means that more than 5,000 Band A households have received £310 support and 367 Band B households have received £363 support.
“We understand people can find it hard to pay their council tax and we take a very sympathetic and fair approach to this at all times, offering advice and guidance to residents who find themselves in this unfortunate position.
“However, we will always pursue unpaid council tax on an ongoing basis and our long-term collection rate is over 99%.”
After seeking advice from the charity-run service, 80 % of people say they feel more in control of their finances, with 98% more clear about the next steps they need to take to deal with their situation.
The charity says that council tax is now the fastest growing type of problem debt it is helping clients to resolve – with 24%of all callers now in arrears, up from 14% in 2007.
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “We are seeing more and more people seek help with council tax arrears – but the fact that Hartlepool residents owe £4.9million makes us concerned that many more people in the area are struggling alone. Free debt advice services such as National Debtline are here to help.
“We would like to see local authorities do everything they can to help residents who are falling behind to seek the free advice that can turn their lives around. We know that the earlier a problem is caught, the better the outcome.
“I would urge anyone in Hartlepool who is struggling to make their council tax payments to contact National Debtline as soon as possible.”
lNational Debtline offers confidential advice at www.nationaldebtline.org and on 0808 8084000.