More than Â£3million Council Tax is outstanding in Hartlepool
Hartlepool Borough Council is chasing more than Â£3million in unpaid Council Tax at the end of the last financial year.
Figures obtained in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Mail show the council was owed £3,032,992.64 as of March 31.
Over the past three years, the council has issued 34,485 summonses for non-payment of a total of £10,512,439.
Independent councillor Paul Thompson said the figure was evidence that residents in the borough were facing increasing financial difficulty.
“The high figures reflects the state of the economy at the moment,” he said.
“People are struggling. They are struggling to pay all their bills, not just Council Tax.
“It does not help that the council has increased Council Tax for the last three years in a row - that does have an effect on people.
“The council should really look at the decisions it has taken and how that is affecting people.”
John O’Connell, chief executive of pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance said it was important to ensure anyone who could afford to pay did so: “When councils should be tightening their belts, they really need to make sure they are collecting money they are owed,” he said.
“Of course, there will be those who struggle to make ends meet but councils have to differentiate between taxpayers who can’t afford to pay their bills and those who refuse.
“Council chiefs could make it easier for those struggling by keeping taxes low but also learn the lesson from any mistakes in collection because it’s not fair on ordinary, law-abiding taxpayers for others to get away without paying their share.”
A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesman said the authority took its responsibilty to pursue outstanding Council Tax payments seriously: “Repayment arrangements are in place covering the majority of the arrears and the Council continues to vigorously pursue recovery of all sums outstanding, such that 99.3% of the Council Tax due is collected within five years,” he said.
Council tax in Hartlepool rose by 3.9% This financial year, before which the council was the only authority to freeze council tax for five years running.
While Hartlepool Borough Council can freeze its element of the council tax bill, it can still rise when precepts for Cleveland Fire Authority, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and parish councils.
In 2016/17 council chiefs say they are receiving £35million less Government funding than it did in 2010/11 - around a 55% reduction.
They say it is too early to comment on Council Tax for 2017/18 as this will depend on the amount of funding the authority receives from the Government and will be set at a Full Council meeting in February.