Debt collectors called to chase £1.46m in unpaid Norwich council bills
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Debt collectors were called in to chase £1.46m in unpaid council tax bills in Norwich during the past year, figures have revealed.
Norwich City Council (NCC) said a series of reminders and warnings are sent to people who do not pay to avoid the need for heavy-handed action.
It also offers a series of reductions to people depending on their circumstances, such as 25pc off for those living on their own - and said it is willing to make reasonable arrangements with those who contact them saying they are struggling to pay.
But in 2,071 cases in the past 12 months, the authority had to instruct an enforcement agent as payment was not forthcoming and the person had not engaged with them.
'The council always checks if the individual has any vulnerabilities before proceeding with committal action and this is always the very last resort after all our other options have been considered,' a report said.
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However it said that some had a 'tendency to stick their head in the sand', highlighting one case of a woman who owed £9,524.89 until she received an inheritance which allowed her to pay it off.
Another owed £7,001.89 but has since brought this down, with the council saying the person was 'terrified at the prospect of going to prison'.
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'The council always checks if the individual has any vulnerabilities before proceeding with committal action and this is always the very last resort after all our other options have been considered,' the report added.
'The council seeks to be 'fair but firm' and has access to the full range of collection and recovery methods if debts are not paid.'
But city councillor James Wright, chairman of NCC's scrutiny committee, which has discussed the issue, said many of the 2,071 cases were people 'struggling to ask for help' to pay their bills.
Once they do engage with the council and put a payment plan in place, most are able to gradually clear their debts, he said.
He stressed that: 'We're not talking about bailiffs at the door. They are only used in absolutely the most extreme circumstances.
'The council's working practices aren't about being heavy-handed. It's about working with people.
'Ultimately long term, if there's lots of bad debt, it will have an impact on the council's ability to deliver services.'