£1.4m added to council tax debt
COUNCIL tax arrears in Peterborough grew by £1.3 million in the last 12 months – taking the total unpaid and outstanding to £6.2 million.
The £1.3m uncollected by the end of March this year was shown in Peterborough City Council’s statement of accounts for 2009/10 and is added to £4.9m worth of arrears carried over from the previous financial year.
Cllr Stephen Goldspink said it was a “huge increase” despite the recession and tabled questions at last night’s city council Audit Committee meeting, where the accounts were being discussed.
Cllr Goldspink said he wanted to know what led to the rise and what was being done about it.
He is also concerned that the council’s revenues and benefits service, which collects the tax, has underspent on its budget.
He said: “Given that council tax arrears have rocketed, as has general debt, why are we under spending in the department? There seems to be a correlation between this and falling collec- tion rates.”
“The reason is the recession and the council is finding it more difficult to get more from people. But what is a bit strange is that there is an underspend in the staffing budget for that team. Surely if you spend money on staffing, you can collect more money?”
However head of corporate services Steven Pilsworth said the increased amount was small in relation to the £70m collected across Peterborough and reassured city tax payers that they were “fully committed” to collecting the arrears
He said: “This is an issue nationally and we are no different to anyone else.
“We are fully staffed at the moment and are committed to using a range of measures, including court as a last resort, to get back the money.
“Unfortunately some of the debtors are on benefits so it takes longer for the money to be paid, but these figures have been ammassed over seveal years and it grows because we never write off the debts,
“It is too early to say how we are doing this financial year as the majority of people pay in direct debits but this is something we are monitoring closely.”
John Harrison, the council’s executive director of strategic resources, said the impact of the recession had put up council tax across the country and stated that neighbouring areas were experiencing similar problems.
He said: “Are we down on collections, yes we are, but when you compare us to some of our neighbouring areas we are not doing too badly.”
CONCERN: Cllr Stephen Goldspink