'Repeat offenders' slammed as Hartlepool writes off nearly £500,000 in unpaid council tax and business rates
Councillors have called for a crackdown on business tax dodgers in Hartlepool after moving to write off £480,000 in irrecoverable debts for the past year.
Hartlepool’s finance and policy committee agreed to write off more than £343,000 in business rates and over £139,000 in council tax for irrecoverable payments for 2020-21.
Council officers stressed they do “absolute everything they can” to collect payments and make sure they have the least debt possible to write-off.
They also noted the Government will cover 50% of the business rates write-off.
For 2019-20, £94,336.94 was written off in irrecoverable council tax and £195,946.48 in business rates.
Councillors praised the hard work of the finance team in attempting debt recovery.
But they hit out at the “repeat offenders” of business rates write-offs.
Cllr Paddy Brown said: “I’m sure over the last 18 months there’s lots of genuine reasons why businesses would be struggling.
“But I can’t help notice there are repeat business owners that seem to take the council for a ride, year in, year out.”
Chris Little, council director of resources and development, said the council has previously written to the Government asking for a change in regulations to help tackle these issues, with no success.
Cllr Brenda Harrison urged the council to continue to attempt to challenge the issue.
She said: “There are people playing the system and getting away with it, and that really doesn’t settle well with me at all.”
Finance officers noted recovering council tax in 2020/21 was “more difficult” due to the impact of Covid-19 and there was a small pause in recovery action as part of their “sensitive” approach.
However their long-term collection rate for council tax, over five years, is in excess of 98.8% while for business rates the figure is 99.7% and they believe Covid-19 will have no long-term impact.
It was also noted 85% of the business rates write-offs for 2019-20 and 2020-21 were the result of companies being subject to liquidation or dissolved.
Council tax write-offs include debts from those who are deceased, absconded or who faced bankruptcy and debt relief orders.
Mr Little noted other North East local authorities face such issues and that Hartlepool is historically among the lowest for both council tax and business rates write-offs.