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Council Tax Sees Extra £4m in Arrears

Welsh councils have  increased debt collection rates by 16% as council tax arrears drop by £2.1million from last year.

The good news was slightly tempered by the fact that local authorities still faced arrears owed of £81.2m as of March 31st 2011. Welsh councils brought in the extra £4 million in arrears in 2010-11, with the total amount of previous year’s debt collected rising from £24.8m in 2009/10 to £28.8m.

As a result collection rates across Wales saw an increase from an average of 96.3% in 2010-11 to 96.6% for this year.

Steve Thomas, Welsh Local Government Association chief executive, was extremely upbeat about the figures claiming it was a “remarkable achievement” during a time of downturn in the economy and added pressure on family budgets. Mr Thomas went on to say:

“Councils recognise that they have a duty to all taxpayers in their area to ensure that those who should pay taxes do, so that this money can be reinvested into vital council services, however at the same time it is a balance between collecting and helping people who are in financial difficulty. Today’s figures show that council workers have got that balance right.”

“Councils have been working closely with the WLGA, Welsh Government and the Citizens Advice Bureau to offer people practical support to help them make their payments; from practical suggestions to providing people with access to the financial support they need. They have also been proactive in making people aware of the council tax benefit which they may be entitled to and helping them in making their application.”

“Councils’ main aim is to help people address their difficult financial situation before they get to an unmanageable level of arrears and today’s figures show that their approach is working. Every council in Wales continues to urge any citizen who is experiencing financial difficulty to contact them for advice and information.”

Flintshire council saw the largest decrease in percentage of arrears owed as it reduced it’s debt by 22% from £1.9 million to $1.5 million.

Kerry Feather, head of finance said:

“We are very pleased that despite the difficulties being faced by people as a result of the economic downturn that we have been able to increase the amount of council tax collected in the year and have worked positively with those who have experienced difficulties to reduce the level of arrears.”

However, the percentage of tax councils were able to collect varied from 98.2% in Denbighshire to 94.5% in Cardiff.

The Welsh Conservatives suggested Welsh councils would be almost £18m better off if all local authorities reached a 98.2% collection rate.

William Graham AM, Shadow Minister for Local Government, said:

“While it may be somewhat unrealistic to expect councils to collect 100% council tax, they do have a responsibility to raise collection rates to maximise the resources available to invest in local public services. If too many council tax payments are left uncollected, this forces up bills for the vast majority of hardworking law-abiding taxpayers.”