Crackdown on those who fail to pay their council tax in city

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People could be ordered to sell their homes to pay for mounting council tax debts which they refuse to pay in a move which could help Wakefield Council recover cash.

The report stresses that the new proposals, if backed by senior councillors, would only be used in certain cases to enable it to recover unpaid council tax from the sale of the property owned by those refusing to pay in the Wakefield district.

A report to be considered by senior councillors in the city says there are currently 147,000 cases of arrears in the district and of those 154 owe between £2,000 and £3,000 and 59 owe more than £3,000 - in excess of three years council tax for a Band A property.

It says that, if the policy is agreed, it would only be used to chase amounts of more than £1,000 and used against those who own their property, as it is not cost-effective to chase smaller amounts in this manner.

The policy could net the authority cash at a time when it is faced with saving £67m by 2014/15 because of Government spending cuts.

It is envisaged the policy, if agreed, would be used to deal with a small number of people who have paid little or none of their council tax. It is designed to deal with persistent non-payers not those who have genuine difficulty in paying.

A report to members of the council’s cabinet committee, which meets on Tuesday, highlights how if a few hundred households fail to pay or are late paying an instalment it can create a considerable deficit and has knock-on effects for others.

“If a few hundred households fail to pay, or are late paying an instalment it creates a considerable deficit which may mean a higher annual charge for those households who do pay,” the report says.

A charging order is a court order placing a ‘charge’ on the debtor’s property such as a house or piece of land. It reflects the amount owed to the council, plus some of the costs involved in the process of obtaining the order. This is paid to the council once the property or land is sold.

It is envisaged that the proposed policy will be used only in appropriate circumstances and on a case by case basis.

The report adds: “Money collected from council tax is used to provide the people of Wakefield with vital services.

“Either because of the number of years of unpaid debt or because of the higher amounts of annual charge a small number of liable taxpayers now have considerable council tax debts and it is essential that where possible this debt is recovered.

“It is important that the council effectively uses all the recovery options available to it in order to maximise the income available to deliver frontline services.”

Coun Graham Stokes, the council’s cabinet member for corporate performance said last night: “Council tax is used to provide the district’s residents with vital services and everything we do is reliant on the money being paid on time. When this doesn’t happen we have a duty to those who have paid to pursue payment from those who do not.”

“The council fully understands that we are all facing very difficult financial challenges and we do everything we can to assist those experiencing genuine difficulty paying. However, we must continue delivering vital services and we have a duty to our customers to do everything in our power to ensure that everyone liable to pay council tax does so,” Coun Stokes added.

The report says other local authorities have already brought in the changes and it is not expected that significant numbers of council tax payers will be forced to sell their homes.

At present the local authority has a number of ways of dealing with the issue from agreeing a payment plan to taking enforcement action in some cases, such as deducting from a person’s earnings or benefits.