WORKING HARD TO TACKLE ARREARS; Tax Collection Rate Has Improved, Says Council

Article excerpt

Byline: Claire Miller

CARDIFF council is still chasing pounds 12m in outstanding council tax, new figures show.

The council has the highest amount outstanding in Wales in 2012-13, and the fifth highest amount per household, the equivalent of pounds 87 each.

However, the council has made some inroads on its arrears, which are down from pounds 12.3m in 2010-11.

The council also saw the biggest improvement in council tax collection rate in Wales, up 0.7% to 95.1% The improvement means the council is no longer the worst performing council in terms of collection rates, a position it held in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

A Cardiff council spokesman claimed the final collection figure could be higher, and said officials were "ex-tremely proactive" in chasing arrears.

He said: "The current performance indicator only measures in-year council tax collection for one year, which can result in misunderstandings and an inaccurate position of the actual final collection position.

"In Cardiff we have budgeted to ultimately collect just over 98% and this target has consistently been met so there is no impact on the ability of the council to spend on services.

"As the capital city of Wales we are collecting 50% more than the next biggest council, with the smallest only collecting 14% of our total. "In 2011/12 our total amount to be collected was pounds 125.4m whereas the council with the next highest amount to collect was pounds 83.7m. To make meaningful comparisons it is more beneficial to look to similar sized English authorities.

"The latest collection rates available in England is for 2010/11 and Cardiff compares well.

"Cardiff council is extremely proactive in collecting council tax and has set up a number of easy pay options such as a touch tone telephone system and payment via the internet.

"During last year over pounds 4m was collected from previous year's council tax arrears. Many of these debts would have been subject to court proceedings for non-payment and bailiffs are widely used to help collect the tax."

Overall, councils in South Wales are chasing pounds 29.1m of the pounds 84.2m arrears at March 31, 2012, of which pounds 12.4m was in-year arrears and pounds 11.7m relates to debts outstanding from previous years.

Janet Finch-Saunders, shadow minister for Local Government, said: "It is grossly unfair that families in Wales are facing higher council tax bills to subsidise the minority who refuse to pay their share.

"In challenging economic times, councils should be working harder to collect unpaid taxes to limit increases in bills for hardworking and law-abiding taxpayers.

"While it may be unrealistic to expect councils to collect 100% council tax, total arrears now stand at a massive pounds 84m - a significant sum, a fraction of which could freeze council tax for hard-pressed taxpayers."

She called on Welsh Ministers to work constructively with local authorities to encourage sharing best practice so councils can raise their collection rates and use the savings to reinvest in frontline services and reduce council tax bills for all. …