Calderdale Council has been forced to write off £6.5 million in irrecoverable Council Tax in the last five years.
The problem peaked in 2015-16 when more than £2 million was lost to the council – this effects every resident in the borough as it is money which could be spent on services.
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In the following year, 2016-17, the amount lost more than halved to £796,986.12 and in the last financial year, 2017-18, had almost halved again, with £485,382 being written off.
In 2013-14 the council had to write-off £1,960,346.29 and in 2014-15 it lost out on £1,190,602.37, peaking in recent years with the figure of £2,109,430.64 in 2015-16.
The authority ranks around the middle of other West Yorkshire authorities, with Leeds, at £4 million, and Wakefield, at £3 million, losing less money while Kirklees at £12 million and Bradford a a whopping £18 million have much bigger totals written-off as “irrecoverable”.
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Councillor Jane Scullion (Labour, Luddenden Foot), Calderdale Council’s Cabinet member for Resources, Performance and Business Change, said: “We do everything we can to collect as much outstanding Council Tax as possible, as it helps to pay for vital services in Calderdale.
“Since 2014 we’ve stepped up our work to increase collection, including campaigns to drive easier payment online and via Direct Debit, and by sending out payment reminders weekly rather than fortnightly.
“Our collection rate is currently the highest it’s ever been.”
There are reasons why residents struggle to pay or cannot pay their Council Tax, and the authority has policy in place to help people who find themselves in genuine hardship, said Councillor Scullion.
“However, we fully understand that each person’s circumstances are different and we always take this into account.
“We work hard to identify residents who are struggling to pay their Council Tax, and where this is the case, we support them to apply for help from our Council Tax Reduction Scheme, Discretionary Housing Payments Scheme or Council Tax Hardship Fund.
“If they need more in-depth budgeting support, we refer them to our partner organisations such as Citizens Advice Calderdale, Calderdale Credit Union and Noah’s Ark Centre.”
The council has had to be tough when circumstances merit it, pursuing matters through the courts and even all the way to jail if it is warranted.
Councillor Scullion said: “Council Tax bills are sent annually and there’s an option to pay across 10 or 12 instalments.
“If payments are not made in line with the bill, we issue a reminder.
“If the reminder balance isn’t paid or the resident doesn’t contact us for help, then we will issue a court summons.
“We urge anyone who has difficulty paying to contact us via our online Live Chat or on 01422 288003, as it may be possible to agree an arrangement which avoids the need for court action, as long as payments are maintained.”
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In both 2013-14 and last year, 2017-18, one person received a custodial sentence for unpaid Council Tax debt, but none in the three years in between.
Last year there were also 20 people who received suspended prison sentences for the offence, down from 31 in 2016-17 and more than half than 2014-15’s 43 and 2015-16’s 42. In 2013-14 32 people received suspended sentences.
Those figures come from thousands of court summonses sent out by the council referring to unpaid Council Tax debt – 16,222 in 2013-14, 21,598 in 2014-15, 24,404 in 2015-16, 18,228 in 2016-17 and 18,911 in 2017-18.
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Even more warning letters were sent out to Council Tax payers ahead of involving the legal process, the borough mailing 43,540 in 2013-14, 59,339 in 2014-15, a bumper 69,055 in the most problematic year of 2015-16, 55,323 in 2016-17 and 51,618 in 2017-18.
The largest number of Council Tax accounts to which the debts referred again peaked in 2015-16 with 6,579 but the numbers have declined since, only 2,285 affected in 2016-17 and 1,167 in 2017-18. In 2013-14 the figure was 5,347 and 2,936 in 2014-15.
In West Yorkshire terms, during the five financial years from 2013/14, all five of our councils wrote off a combined total of more than £45 million in unpaid council tax debt.
In that same time, West Yorkshire councils sent out 800,000 court summonses between them, from which more than 600,000 were prosecuted.
Other than Calderdale only Bradford had people sent to prison for non-payment of Council Tax.