NEWLY-released official figures have revealed that residents in Redditch owe a total of £4.1 million in unpaid Council Tax, leading a national debt charity to warn that many residents are not receiving the free advice they need to deal with Council Tax and other debts.
The figures, included in newly-published data published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, show that residents in the Redditch local authority area owed £4.1 million in unpaid Council Tax bills at March 31, 2016. This represents an increase from £3.5 million for the previous year.
National Debtline, the free advice service run by the Money Advice Trust, said the fact that so much Council Tax debt is still outstanding is a further sign that more residents in Redditch would benefit from help in tackling their financial problems.
The warning comes as residents are paying more Council Tax than in previous years. In April, Council Tax bills for residents in Redditch rose by 3.38 per cent – with the average bill for a Band D household amounting to £1,612.45 for 2016/17, compared to £1,559.72 for 2015/16.
These figures include all of the different elements of Council Tax, so-called ‘precepts’, and represents the real financial impact on household bills of various Council Tax decisions taken by the different public authorities covering the area.
National Debtline receives around 170 calls each year from residents in Redditch seeking advice on how to resolve their debt problems, and expects that this number could increase– with higher Council Tax bills adding to the pressure for many households who already have stretched budgets.
The charity, which also offers free online advice at www.nationaldebtline.org, says that Council Tax is now the fastest growing type of problem debt it is helping clients to resolve – with 25 percent of all callers now in arrears, up from 14 per cent in 2007.
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said: “The level of unpaid Council Tax in Redditch remains a concern. With people in the area now paying 3.38 per cent more in Council Tax than they were this time last year, there is a risk that residents who are already behind will find it even more difficult to resolve their financial difficulty.
“Council Tax is vital in funding the essential local services that we all rely on, and local authorities are already under significant financial pressure – so it is in everyone’s interests that arrears are repaid. We would urge all councils to do everything they can to ensure that residents in difficulty are signposted to free advice that will help them get back on track.
“Anyone in and around Redditch who is finding it hard to make their Council Tax payments should contact National Debtline or a local agency such as Citizens Advice as early as possible. The earlier you seek free advice, the quicker and easier the problem will be to solve.”
National Debtline offers free, independent and confidential advice 24 hours a day online at www.nationaldebtline.org and on 0808 808 4000, Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm, Saturday 9.30am to 1pm.
Amanda Singleton, head of customer access and financial support at Redditch borough council said: “We fully support the Money Advice Trust’s message that anyone struggling to pay their Council Tax should seek help as soon as possible, either from us directly or from voluntary money advice organisations that we work closely with.
“The high level of support and advice we provide does of course complement a robust stance on non-payment of Council Tax. We always try to work with customers to put sustainable repayment plans in place, for example the ‘£4.1 million’ quoted includes all the debts for which we already have sustainable arrangements in place going back 17 years.
“On the rare occasions that payment arrangements break down we can employ a range of options to recover debts as a last resort, including debts being paid directly from benefits or earnings, seizing of possessions, bankruptcy or orders against property. But we would strongly advise getting in touch long before it ever comes to that.”