A ruthless demonstration of council tax enforcement action by a local authority in the West Midlands should help serve as a reminder to those thinking about not paying their council tax that it really is not an option.
Bankruptcy is the fate awaiting two particular residents in Stoke-on-Trent after its city council initiated proceedings against them for failing to pay more than £12,000 in council tax between them.
It is an unprecedented move by the authority and has left other homeowners in the city in no doubt about the lengths they will go to in order to recover unpaid tax.
The council says it has been forced into taking such action because the residents have simply refused to pay their debts, despite having the funds to do so.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Stoke-on-Trent City Council scrapped more than £2 million of unpaid council tax after bailiffs were only able to recoup £35,000.
Councillor Terry Crowe, cabinet member for finance, reminded residents of their council tax obligations and responded to accusations that the council does not do enough to ensure it is paid by insisting that they have made considerable progress in the collection of unpaid tax, which has seen a reduction in the amount of outstanding arrears.
He warned that more bankruptcy orders will be issued against those who refuse to pay, suggesting that other measures had proved ineffective.
“We intend to pursue more of these cases against those who just won’t pay. This is the first time we have used these kinds of measures, but we’ve tried everything else and we have no alternative.”
The bankruptcy order will give the council authority to seize assets to the value of the outstanding debt.
Revenue manager at the authority, Kaye Holmes, echoed Cllr Crowe’s comments that they were left with no option but said there was still a chance for the residents to settle their debts, adding: “We have tried to engage with them but we are getting nowhere. The individuals will still have the opportunity to pay up once the legal proceedings have started.”
The move drew faint praise from Stoke-on-Trent Citizens Advice Bureau but they urged caution over the use of such tactics against those who are genuinely unable to pay.
Chief Executive, Simon Harris, said: “For those people who do have assets, particularly property, then the treat of bankruptcy may just persuade them to make the payments.
“But we oppose this method being used to motivate people who are unable to pay or to intimidate those people who simply cannot afford to pay.”
If you are struggling to pay your council tax, the importance of informing your local authority cannot be overestimated. Contact Council Tax Advisors for more independent advice on how to deal with council tax arrears.