Council in £50m tax pursuit

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MORE than £50 million of unpaid council tax is still being pursued by the local authority, it has been revealed.

Figures showing the amounts still owed to every council in Scotland were released to the Scottish Parliament – and highlighted that Edinburgh is still looking to collect £51,902,000.

The figure is up from £39.7m which the council said was the outstanding council tax debt last year. A total of £13.6m was not paid in the past year alone.

Concerns have been raised that the amount of council tax going unpaid is rising, as households find it increasingly difficult to pay their bills.

If collected, the figure would more than cover the £42.6m “black hole” in the council’s capital budget over the next four years. The figures also showed that East Lothian Council is looking to recover £5.8m in unpaid council tax, Midlothian Council is chasing £7.9m and West Lothian Council pursuing £13.4m.

The council said it was continuing attempts to gather all of the outstanding amount, and highlighted the fact that over the five-year period it had recovered 93.5 per cent of all tax. Last year it collected 94.3 per cent of the total due.

Bosses added that Edinburgh’s rate was better than cities such as Glasgow – which only collected 92.6 per cent and has an outstanding debt of £75m – but pledged to increase the amount they get back.

It was revealed last year that almost 300 people a day were being threatened with court action for failing to pay their council tax. Between April 2010 and March 2011, 76,611 summary warrants were issued as the council took an aggressive approach to collecting on the council tax.

A missed instalment results in a reminder notice being sent, and if this is ignored a warrant requiring the full sum of tax to be paid is issued.

As a last resort, the council has powers to seek inhibition of a property, which prevents a home being sold or loans being secured against it, or sequestration of the individual.

But Gordon MacRae, head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity, warned that people struggling financially needed support.

“We do know cuts are hitting pockets hard, and households are finding it difficult to pay bills every week. While the costs of eviction can be more than the costs of council tax, the key is to supply struggling families with access to support networks. Evicting families facing relatively small arrears is a false economy.”

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance leader, said: “We do recognise that people, for all sorts of reasons, can experience difficulties paying. We would ask them get in touch.”