Unpaid council tax bill rises to almost £20m

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Households in the district owe an average of £132 in unpaid council tax after cuts to benefits led to sky-rocketing arrears.

Latest figures show that Wakefield Council is owed almost £20m in unpaid tax, a figure which rose by more than £3m in the year to March 31.

Rising numbers of people, some disabled, are facing court action for not paying.

In the financial year 2013-14, 19,657 court summonses were issued for non-payment of council tax, up from 15,753 the previous year.

Some 6,043 of the summonses were sent to people who did not have to pay before council tax benefit was scrapped by the government on April 1 last year.

Of those who faced being hauled before magistrates for their arrears, 1,383 were disabled last year, according to figures released by Wakefield Council.

Separate government figures show that on March 31 this year the council was owed £19.54m, up from £16.2m a year earlier.

The amount of council tax arrears per dwelling in the district averages at £132.

Graham Stokes, the council’s cabinet member for corporate performance, said: “We take council tax collection very seriously but also recognise that for various reasons some people may struggle to pay and therefore we do help people to make affordable payments.

“In certain circumstances we make arrangements that give people longer to pay if this helps them.

“The arrears figures need to be taken in the context of us helping people by giving them longer to pay if necessary.”

Council Tax Benefit was abolished by the coalition government on April 1 last year as part of a round of public spending cuts.

That left 15,000 more district residents liable to pay, with many forced to dip into other benefits to come up with the cash.

Wakefield Council said anyone struggling to pay their council tax bill should call the helpline on 0345 8504504 immediately to get help.