City targets 200 residents a day over unpaid council tax

City council is looking to recoup �42m of debt
City council is looking to recoup �42m of debt
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MORE than 200 Edinburgh residents a day are being threatened with court for failing to pay more than £42 million of council tax, new figures have revealed.

The total number of summary warrants issued between April 2011 and March last year hit 75,655, as council chiefs sought legal remedies to recover the massive debt.

The issue has sparked concerns from housing groups that thousands of city residents are struggling to make ends meet in the current financial climate.

Council chiefs have urged those in financial distress to seek help immediately, but have warned they will strive to boost tax collection rates “even in these challenging times”.

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

Figures obtained by the Evening News show 75,655 summary warrants were issued in an attempt to claw back a total of £42,013,300.

For the 76,611 warrants delivered the previous year, £39.7m was being pursued. The amount being sought has dropped considerably from the £56.3m being chased in 2009-10, during the height of the economic troubles.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said many Edinburgh council taxpayers were on the breadline.

He said: “Just a small increase in monthly outgoings or one missed bill could be the trigger that finally pushes some over the edge into a spiral of debt, repossession or eviction and possible homelessness.

“With a quarter of people in Scotland worrying that they are only one pay day away from losing their home, Scotland urgently needs to restore its housing safety net by building more affordable homes. Only then can we ensure that thousands of families and individuals who fall on hard times are not left out in the cold.”

At present, a missed council tax payment 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.

Tory councillor Iain Whyte, who sits on the finance and budget committee, said: “It seems like overall good news that the number of summary warrants has dropped. The reduction may be partly because of increasing numbers of people signing up to direct debits or paying online to ensure they don’t get behind on payments.

“But it’s worrying that the amount of money owed under summary warrants has increased. I would encourage the council to do everything they can to assist people in financial difficulty because the more people fall behind and the larger the debt becomes, the less likely you are to recover it.”