Chichester district residents owe more than £2.5million in unpaid council tax – according to figures from a national charity.
Research by the National Debtline, a free advice service run by the charity Money Advice Trust, showed that households were behind on their bills by a cumulative total of £4,029,000 at the end of 2014/15, up from £3,890,000 the year before.
The helpline received 121 calls from Chichester residents in 2014.
Although Chichester District Council is the collecting authority West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police also set their own council tax precepts.
A Chichester District Council spokesperson said: “The figures quoted are the total amount of outstanding council tax at the end of the particular financial year. Council tax collection continues after the end of the financial year and historic collection rates over time generally exceed 99 per cent of the council tax due.
“By 31 March 2015 the 2013/14 outstanding arrears had reduced to £2,546,550 and will continue to reduce over time.
“We have adopted a Corporate Debt Recovery Policy with a primary aim of achieving best practice in the collection of debt. This is achieved by following a set of principles that are outlined in the policy which include making realistic arrangements for repayments of arrears and signposting customers to free sources of independent money and debt advice.
“The remission of council tax is included in the council’s protocol for dealing with discretionary reduction of council tax and specifically refers to cases of financial hardship.
“Additionally, we actively promote all of the discounts and exemptions available to customers including Chichester’s council tax reduction scheme. This scheme replaces the Government’s council tax benefit scheme and despite significant funding cuts has been designed in a way that keeps entitlement in line with the preceding council tax benefit scheme.”
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “We are seeing more and more people seek help with council tax arrears – but the fact that Chichester residents owe £2.5m makes us concerned that many more people in the area are struggling alone. Free debt advice services such as National Debtline are here to help. We would like to see local authorities do everything they can to help residents who are falling behind to seek the free advice that can turn their lives around. We know that the earlier a problem is caught, the better the outcome.
“I would urge anyone in the Chichester district who is struggling to make their council tax payments to contact National Debtline as soon as possible. Our expert advisers are on hand to work through your situation and help you get back on track with your finances.”
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 9pm, Saturday 9.30am to 1pm.
For more information on council tax locally visit CDC’s website at www.chichester.gov.uk/counciltax
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