£15m in unpaid council tax to be 'written off' by Stoke-on-Trent City Council
MORE than £8 million in unpaid council tax had already been written off by the city council – before its controversial decision to wipe out millions of pounds in debts.
Council leaders agreed to write off £7.5 million in unpaid taxes and business rates last month, blaming the debt mountain on the reluctance of 'previous administrations' to wipe long-term debts from the authority's books.
But figures obtained by The Sentinel show the authority had already written off £8.1 million in unpaid council tax before that decision was taken.
Residents and opposition members have now called on the council to take tough action against tax dodgers to prevent the same situation developing again.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Records show the authority frequently allowed long-term debts to mount up.
One resident was allowed to accumulate council tax arrears of £5,524 between 1993 and 2005 – before the debt was eventually written off last year.
Councillor Dave Conway, leader of the opposition City Independents, said: "I don't think it is a case of previous administrations being loath to write debt off. Clearly, it has been done in previous years.
"The overriding question has to be how do you allow it to build up for several years, to these huge amounts, in the first place?
"It does not send a very good message to the poor souls who have always paid. People work very hard to pay the bills."
Alan Joinson, chairman of East Bentilee residents' association, said: "I've always worked hard and I have always paid my taxes.
"They should be doing more to chase up the people who refuse to pay.
"Give them ample warning, then send in bailiffs.
"You do get people who say they don't know what the council tax is for.
"But they would soon notice if their bin wasn't being emptied and if we didn't have the police and the fire service."
Despite the figures, some former councillors admit there were problems in writing off long-term debt.
Former Liberal Democrat councillor Kieran Clarke, of Packmoor, who served as a cabinet member for finance, said: "There were cases where technically it was written off, and they made a provision for it in the books because they knew they couldn't get it. That used to infuriate me.
"Nobody actually wanted to make the announcement that it was being formally written off.
"Clearly the time to do it is when you haven't got an election for several years.
"When a debt dates back years it becomes incredibly difficult to try to get it back."
The city council has admitted it allowed debts to build while focusing too much on its year-on-year targets.
But leaders say collection rates now compare favourably to most authorities.
Members have agreed to review and write-off debts every six months to avoid large amounts of long-term debt lying on file in future.
And they claim to have taken extensive steps to ensure all debts written off are 'unrecoverable'.
Deputy leader Paul Shotton told cabinet colleagues: "I'm satisfied that we couldn't do anything more in these instances to try to get the debt back."