�7m in council tax goes unpaid in Norfolk

Councils in Norfolk failed to collect more than �7m in council tax owed over the past year, new figures have revealed.

According to statistics released by the Department for Communities and Local Government, of the �385.4m which was owed by Norfolk taxpayers, �378.3m was actually collected.

That meant just over �7.14m of council tax, which is used to pay for services such as schools, rubbish collections, social services, police and fire services, has so far gone unpaid.

Nationally, local authorities collected �21.9bn up to the end of March 2011 out of a total of �22.5bn, an average of 97.3pc.

The worst performer in Norfolk was Norwich City Council, which had a collection rate of 96pc - below the national average. Of the �50.23m the council could have collected, it managed to collect �48.21m.

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However, the collection rate by City Hall has improved on 2009/10, when it stood at 95.8pc, while officers said comparing its efforts with those of other councils in Norfolk was not comparing like for like.

Amy Lyall, spokesman for Norwich City Council, said: 'We do not feel a comparison between Norwich and other councils in Norfolk is meaningful as Norwich is an urban area with high levels of deprivation and a high proportion of single people who often move around.

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'When compared with a peer group of similar council areas, the figures offer a different picture and we are confident that we do recover the vast majority of unpaid council tax and do our utmost to ensure people pay.

'We rigorously chase people who do not pay council tax and the council runs regular audits and drives. For example, last financial year we investigated 1,500 households claiming single-person discount, and as a result it was withdrawn from 850 homes, meaning we recovered �280,000. This work was recognised nationally as an example of good practice by the Audit Commission.

'We also employed an outside data-matching firm to check our address register and found 40 new addresses where buildings had been converted or changed, recovering �110,000.'

Broadland District Council was the best performing council in Norfolk, collecting 99.1pc of available council tax in 2010/11, above the national average.

The authority collected �61.17m in council tax, from a possible �61.74m.

Broadland District Council's portfolio holder for finance, Paul Carrick said: 'Broadland has long prided itself on collecting the revenue that is due, and this is not only a great achievement by our finance team, but also reflects huge credit on our residents and businesses.

'We understand that money is tight, but it is important that everyone pulls their weight in helping fund council services.'

Among the innovations used by Broadland are text message reminders which are sent to people to remind them of overdue council tax bills.

Council tax is split between payments made to the county council, the police and the district council, but it is the responsibility of the district councils to collect the cash.

Non-payment of council tax can see people hit with a summons to attend a court hearing where the council asks the magistrate for a liability order.

That enables the council to get the debt back, which can include using bailiffs to seize belongings and sell them, to take deductions from benefit or to take deductions from wages.

But non-payment can also lead to up to three months in prison.

How much did your local council collect?

Council Estimated council tax collectable 2010/11 Total collected 2010/11 Percentage collected 2010/11 Breckland �53.64m �52.63m 98.1

Broadland �61.75m �61.17m 99.1

Great Yarmouth �36.80m �36.01m 97.9

King's Lynn/West Norfolk �66.14m �64.89m 98.1

North Norfolk �54.59m �53.82m 98.6

Norwich �50.23m �48.21m 96

South Norfolk �62.34m �61.59m 98.8

England �22.53bn �21.91bn 97.3

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