Writ­ing off al­most £4m of debt ‘not ac­cept­able’

CASH: Coun­cils crit­i­cised but say they will never be able to gather all monies

The Courier & Advertiser (Dundee Edition) - - NEWS - Derek healey dhealey@the­courier.co.uk

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties across Courier Coun­try wrote off al­most £4 mil­lion in un­paid coun­cil tax last year, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures.

Coun­cils scrapped more than £3.8m in charges, in­clud­ing waste and wa­ter bills, in 2016/17 – an in­crease of around £430,000 on the pre­vi­ous year.

The fig­ure rep­re­sents a stag­ger­ing 13% rise, with Fife Coun­cil alone writ­ing off a whop­ping £2.1m.

An­gus Coun­cil wrote off around £646,000 dur­ing the pe­riod, Perth and Kin­ross a fur­ther £492,000, while Dundee City Coun­cil let go of nearly £578,000.

Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive tax spokesman Bill Bow­man said it was “alarm­ing” to see so much money be­ing writ­ten off at a time when coun­cils are be­ing forced to make ef­fi­ciency sav­ings.

“Coun­cil tax is one of the few rev­enue streams they can rely on to fund es­sen­tial pub­lic ser­vices,” he said.

“Un­der­per­for­mance could af­fect a host of statu­tory ser­vices, which are

al­ready be­ing re­shaped to face fi­nan­cial chal­lenges.

“Those who are pay­ing in full will ex­pect ef­fi­cient ser­vices and may feel short-changed if this trend con­tin­ues.”

John O’Con­nell, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Tax­pay­ers’ Al­liance, said it was “not ac­cept­able” that peo­ple who pay their coun­cil tax are be­ing forced to sub­sidise those who do not.

He added: “It is not enough for the coun­cils to have to write off un­paid tax year af­ter year, with­out re­duc­ing their spend­ing.

“If peo­ple re­ally can­not af­ford to pay, that should be a sign to the coun­cil that tax is too high and they should re­duce the ter­ri­ble bur­den it places on peo­ple.”

David Alexan­der, co-leader of Fife Coun­cil, said the au­thor­ity did what it could but in­sisted “there will al­ways be chal­lenges”, such as peo­ple mov­ing away or be­ing un­able to pay.

He said: “Of course, it would be won­der­ful if we could col­lect 100% of what’s due ev­ery year but that just isn’t pos­si­ble – debt is al­ways col­lected if we can do it.”

A spokesman for Dundee City Coun­cil said coun­cil tax was only writ­ten off “when all meth­ods of col­lec­tion have been ex­hausted and where there is lit­tle chance of re­cov­er­ing any money due”.

An­gus Coun­cil said it had “one of the high­est coun­cil tax col­lec­tion rates in Scot­land” and stressed debts were never writ­ten off “un­til all op­tions have been pur­sued”.

A spokes­woman for Perth and Kin­ross Coun­cil said the au­thor­ity “makes ev­ery ef­fort” to col­lect out­stand­ing debt and that the coun­cil would take “ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion” when new in­for­ma­tion made re­cov­ery pos­si­ble.

Of course, it would be won­der­ful if we could col­lect 100% of what’s due ev­ery year but that just isn’t pos­si­ble

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