Council tax arrears increase to almost £12.5million in East Riding, councillors told

Council tax arrears have climbed to almost £12.5m in the East Riding as councillors heard some debtors had spoken of committing suicide.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 11:45 am
East Riding councillors heard staff had spoken with some debtors who were desperate and despairing as the amount they owed continued to rise.

East Riding councillors heard staff had spoken with some debtors who were desperate and despairing as the amount they owed continued to rise.

Council Head of Revenues and Procurement Gillian Barley said the recent withdrawal of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and the end of furlough was expected to make things worse.

She added the council also dealt with some who refused to pay because they were unhappy with local services and would pursue legal action if they did not comply.

It comes as council figures showed £12,445,201 was owed as of August, an average of £785 per debtor.

The total includes arrears from this financial year and from previous ones while the council’s collection rate stands at 97.8 per cent, compared to a national average of 95.7 per cent.

More than three quarters, 77.2 per cent, were not in receipt of council tax support.

Ms Barley told the council’s Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee demand for financial support was expected to mount.

The officer said: “Our teams are speaking to people who are in absolute desperation, some even talk about suicide.

“When people contact us there’s a level of despair.

“We’re working so that staff can make one single arrangement for all debts someone owes to the council, at the moment people are having to have the same conversions about their circumstances with several different people.

“We’re anticipating more demand following the end of government support and with rising prices of things like energy that we’re seeing at the moment.

“We do get some who chose not to pay, they might say they are refusing to pay council tax because their bin wasn’t collected one week.

“We try and engage with them but we’re clear that it’s not a choice, they have to pay, and ultimately we would go down the legal route if they refuse to comply.”

Figures also showed more than a third of council house tenants, 3,577 out of 11,766, owed rent payments totalling £2,436,941.

More than half of those in rent arrears of £20 or more, 1,828, were Universal Credit claimants.

Council tax support claims stood at 20,763 as of August, up from 19,947 in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic began but down from a peak of 21,472 the following July.

More than £691,000 has been paid out to 2,139 people in self-isolation support payments since government funding was given to councils in September last year.

The Test and Trace support scheme ended on Thursday, September 30, with each claimant previously given £500 each.

A total of 252 households have received £31,620 between them in Coronavirus Local Support Grants launched in July to help buy food, pay bills and cover other essentials.

Council staff also helped residents claim almost £3.8m in benefits they did not know about, which helped to shave £519,000 off debts owed in the 2020-21 financial year.

Article by Joe Gerrard (Local Democracy Reporting Service)