Millions of pounds worth of unpaid council tax debt was written off by Leeds City Council last year, the YEP can reveal.
Information received following freedom of information requests shows the authority wrote off a total of £6.2m in what it felt was unrecoverable council tax debts since 2014.
The figures also reveal that more than 50,000 court summonses were sent out for non-payment of council tax during the 2018/19 financial year, while 42,000 prosecutions, known as liability orders, were made during that time.
The council says that it manages to collect 99 per cent of council tax due, and that it doesn’t pursue custodial sentences, unlike other local authorities.
In total, Leeds City Council wrote off £3.3m of unrecoverable council tax debts during the 2018/19 financial year. The authority insisted, however, that the va
Its response to the FOI request stated: “The vast majority of these balances (92 per cent) related to debt from previous years, with just over £280,000 of this value relating to 2018/19 liabilities. Whilst these are large values the authority still budgets to collect 99 per cent of all charges due.”
It added that 52,974 court summonses were issued on behalf of the council during that year. When added to figures obtained a similar information request made last year, this takes the total number of council tax related court summonses
A response by Leeds City Council read: “Council tax is only written-off after exhausting every possible option to collect the debt as a very last resort.
“In consequence there is obviously a delay between the debt first becoming due and the decision being taken to write-off the debt. The council uses national tracing systems which are constantly being updated with new information and will reverse the decision to write-off a debt should the debtor reappear.”
It added that the majority of written off council tax debts were due to the debtor absconding and the authority being unable to trace them. Bankruptcy of the individual, as well as deceased debtors were also given as reasons.
It added: “The vast majority of council tax is paid in full and on time, and ultimately the council collects 99 per cent of what is owed.
“However where payment is not initially forthcoming the only viable mechanism available to pursue payment is through the magistrates court. In doing so the council has regard to its duty of care to its vulnerable citizens and also to those citizens who pay their council tax promptly and expect action to be taken against those who can, but choose not to do so.
“However the Council currently does not use the full range of measure available, in particular seeking custodial sentences, as this course of action is not cost-effective and ultimately results in the debt being written-off anyway.
“It is worth noting that Leeds City Council’s approach to council tax collection has been praised by both The Citizens Advice Bureau and debt charity StepChange.”