Sheffield tax avoiders fail to attend court

Queues of people summonsed to appear at Sheffield Magistrates' Court for non-payment of council tax - but only 10 per cent of those ordered to attend turned up
Queues of people summonsed to appear at Sheffield Magistrates' Court for non-payment of council tax - but only 10 per cent of those ordered to attend turned up
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Just one in 10 people who were ordered to attend Sheffield Magistrates’ Court for failing to pay their council tax turned up.

Sheffield Council has revealed it sent summonses to 7,611 people owing a total of £2.05 million ahead of a special session of the court on Friday. A previous figure of 3,500 quoted by the council was for the morning sessions alone.

But although there were long queues to get into the court, just 688 people answered their summons.

Sheffield Council is battling to reduce council tax arrears - which totalled £8.8 million for 2012-13 - as it is making £50m cuts in the current financial year.

Of those who attended court, 363 made payment arrangements, 166 agreed for payments to be taken from their benefits, and two from their earnings.

Some 24 people challenged their liability before magistrates - but 21 of the cases failed, two were adjourned and just one was found to have been in error and withdrawn.

A further 33 cases were adjourned due to correspondence sent to the court.

Coun Bryan Lodge, Sheffield Council cabinet member for finance, said: “We have to take action against households who are not paying their council tax because, to put it bluntly, the council needs the money to pay for essential services in the current climate.

“We will do what we can to reach an agreement with those facing genuine difficulties, and hardship funds are available.

“To avoid getting a summons and avoiding further costs, people having problems paying should get in touch as soon as possible.”

Sheffield Council said while most people were dealt with informally by talking to council officers, those who wanted to be seen by a magistrate were able to.

People who failed to attend court had liability orders passed in their absence authorising the council to recover the debts.

But some of those taken to court said they would have to go hungry to pay.

Marcell Coburn, 52, from Low Edges, said: “I’m hungry now.

“When I finish paying all my bills, I have £10- £15 left to feed me for two weeks.”