Tax black hole is clawed back

Coun Ben Curran, Sheffield Council cabinet member for finance
Coun Ben Curran, Sheffield Council cabinet member for finance
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Sheffield is slowly clawing back uncollected council tax following a controversial clampdown.

Last year The Star revealed city leaders were owed £31 million in arrears - some stemming back as far as 1999.

But stepped up efforts to collect the cash, which prompted protests from some of the 56,714 residents served court summons between last March and this February, have helped reduce that figure to just over £28m.

And 44,574 repayment arrangements were made with taxpayers in the last financial year, compared with 37,021 in 2012-2013.

Coun Ben Curran, Sheffield Council cabinet member for finance, said: “As a council we do everything we can to recover council tax owed to us.

“The reason we have seen a recent spike in numbers of arrears in Sheffield and across the country is down to the Government abolishing council tax benefit and forcing some of the poorest people in the city into arrears for the first time.

“People who won’t pay already face the full range of recovery options that we are allowed to take under national legislation, including summons and bailiffs.

“Sheffield Council’s collection rate is far better than the Government’s. If HMRC collected tax at the rate the council does, the Government would have an extra £20 billion to spend on public services every year.”

While the figures indicate the council is on the right track, its overall collection rate for the last financial year was 95.3 per cent. This is lower than other big cities including Leeds, where the figure is 96.6 per cent.

Opposition leaders the Liberal Democrats say swifter action could safeguard the city’s axe-threatened libraries.

Coun Andrew Sangar, Lib Dem finance spokesman, said: “Allowing tax dodgers protection is unfair on the majority of local residents who pay their council tax on time.

“Such abuse makes a mockery of the system.”