Ipswich: Borough’s uncollected council tax rises by 10% to nearly £5m

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Should we raid council reserves? - Credit: PA

The total amount of uncollected council tax from households in Ipswich has spiralled by nearly £450,000 after a controversial change in legislation.

The amount of arrears in May 2012 was £4,252,416 but in May this year that figure stood at £4,695,684.

This represents a 10.4% increase in the amount of outstanding council tax, which also includes precepts for the fire authority, Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Constabulary.

The figures have prompted Ipswich MP Ben Gummer to question how effective Ipswich Borough Council is at collecting tax.

The borough council is the collecting authority and sent out 25,596 reminders last month compared to 13,490 in May 2012.

A borough spokesman said the abolition of Council Tax Benefit in April and the introduction of the Council Tax Reduction scheme had been the biggest factor behind the rise in uncollected cash.

He said: “It requires everyone of working age to pay a minimum of 8.5% whereas a lot of them would have previously paid nothing. People are getting less help with their payments.

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“There’s no surprise about it at all. There is more to collect – the debit is more because there is less assistance with it now. At the moment we are taking our normal action – sending out reminders.”

David Ellesmere, leader of the Labour-controlled authority, said the borough had warned the Government about the possible outcome of the change in legislation.

He said: “As a council we try to keep the amount of money that people have got to pay down as much as we can.

“There are thousands of people who are now paying something that were previously not having to pay anything. Obviously they do need to pay the council tax the council expects them to pay because it’s not fair on the people who are paying.”

He said that all those that had seen their circumstances change would have been made well aware of their requirement to pay but there were ways the authority could help.

“There will be some people who are being hit not just by the cuts in the Council Tax Benefit but they are also getting hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ as well,” he added.

But last night Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said the council should not be blaming the Government. “It is right that we are asking people to make a small contribution if they are able to and I know that this will cause a temporary change to the arrears,” he said.

“But I’m still unconvinced that the borough is as efficient at collecting council tax as it could be and as ever it is ready with an excuse and a reason why it’s someone else’s fault rather than their own. It’s becoming a rather unattractive habit.”

Are you in council tax arrears? How have the changes to benefits legislation affected you? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email starnews@archant.co.uk