Bolton owes almost £9 million in unpaid council tax
BOLTON Council is owed almost £9 million in unpaid council tax, as town hall bosses admit people are finding it harder to pay up in the current economic climate.
Figures released following a Freedom of Information request showed there was £9.5 million owed to the authority by 21,000 accounts as of early May this year, although the council said that figure had dropped to £8.7 million at the end of June.
But that figure is £300,000 higher than the same period last year.
Bolton’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau also says the number of inquiries staff are now dealing with has risen 30 per cent in the last 12 months, with a “significant proportion” relating to debt management.
Richard Wilkinson, chief officer of Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau, said: “This reflects the national problem in terms of the way most local authorities are having to use baliffs, with the number of times very much on the increase.
“The dip in the economy plus the impact of welfare reforms goes a long way to explaining why people have been left struggling.
“Quite a lot of people do not have an understanding of which debts are the most important.
“They are paying pay-day loan companies and so forth and not prioritising more important bills, such as council tax.”
There are more than 122,000 taxable properties in Bolton. By comparison, Wigan — with 141,000 properties — had outstanding arrears of almost £13.5 million at the end of June.
Salford Council had council tax arrears of £12.3 million for the same period, with 110,535 properties.
Although the council says people are finding it harder to pay because of the economic downturn, it added court action and the use of bailiffs were among its options for collecting debts.
A council spokesman said: “At a similar time last year the amount of arrears was £8.4 million.
“We encourage people to make arrangements for payment, but if this is not done, we can apply for attachments of earnings, deductions from benefits, or send cases to the council’s bailiffs for collection.
“Further court action may then be taken if the case is returned from the bailiffs because they are unable to collect it.”
And Mr Wilkinson encouraged people who are struggling to pay their debts to contact the CAB for help.
He added: “We will also strive to analyse their personal circumstances and see if anything can be done to increase their benefits allowance.
“Council tax is a priority debt but the macroeconomic situation, especially for people in Bolton, can make it tough.”
The council said the original figures include arrears from previous council tax years, that some are owed by people who are no longer resident in the area, while others may result from two or more accounts registered over time at the same address.
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