Council tax court threats hit 300 dodgers each day

Housing groups say struggling residents are simply unable to meet their bills
Housing groups say struggling residents are simply unable to meet their bills
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NEARLY 300 people a day are being threatened with court for failing to pay their council tax in Edinburgh, new figures have revealed.

The number of summary warrants issued between last April and March hit 76,611 as council officials tried to claw back £39.7 million unpaid taxes.

The total represents a fall on the previous year when 95,549 households were issued with summary warrants in a bid to recover £56.3m of unpaid bills.

But this year’s figure is still well above average for recent years, sparking concern from housing groups that some residents are struggling to meet their bills in the tough economic climate.

Council chiefs today said they would make “every effort” to ensure taxes are collected in full, adding that Edinburgh had a higher in-year collection rate than Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow at 94.3 per cent.

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.

The figures reveal that 293 warrants were issued each working day in 2010/11, compared with 218 in 2007/8.

Some of the warrants were taken out this year against residents who still owed council tax dating back as far as 2005.

Gordon MacRae, head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity, said: “At a time when unemployment is high and the cost of living is increasing, more and more households are struggling to stay on top of their bills and keep a roof over their heads.

“Just a small increase in monthly outgoings could be the trigger that finally pushes some people over the edge into a spiral of debt, repossession and possible homelessness.

“Staying on top of personal finances is vital. Our money and legal advice services are already in greater demand and we are seeing an increase in the number looking for advice.

“Whether you’re worried about missing a council tax payment or are falling behind with other bills, we can help stop things from spiralling out of control.”

Residents have been hit with a total of 351,079 summary warrants during the last five years, relating to £217.1m of unpaid council tax.

The council was unable to supply figures for the amount still outstanding that had been pursued through summary warrants.

Councillor Phil Wheeler, convener of the finance committee, said: “We make every effort to collect council tax to ensure that we have sufficient funds to provide vital services.

“It is only fair for the majority of citizens who do pay their council tax and other council charges that we take appropriate steps to recover the outstanding sums.”