Stoke Writes Off Millions of Unpaid Council Tax, Again

I read in today’s Sentinel that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has decided to write off another £6 million in unpaid council tax. This comes only a few months after an earlier decision to write off £7.5 million. The Council apparently claimed that the debts could not be recovered owing to chargepayer death, bankruptcy or absconding. This seems too easy an excuse to me. It sends out a strong signal that they won’t try very hard to recover unpaid tax, and that they will easily give up and write it off.

If it’s true that some unpaid tax goes back twenty years, then it’s clearly never got to grips with the problem. Having worked in Council Tax while I was with the Council, I know the collection rate has long been poor. This is not to criticise the hard working staff, the blame lies squarely with poor management, especially in recent years. This problem will only get worse with the abolition of Council Tax Benefit this month: people who previously didn’t pay anything will now have to pay one third of the charge. If the Council already can’t collect what it’s supposed to, how will it manage in future? Or will these multi-million pound write-offs be a regular feature from now on?

Instead of wasting huge amounts of money on endless restructures, obscene senior salaries and vanity projects like the business district, perhaps the Council should concentrate on collecting more of the money that is owed to it. A lot more. Each write off is money that could have been spent on services and that could have eased some of the cuts. I appreciate that many people struggle to pay the charge, but there are many who can pay, but don’t. One unfortunate legacy of the poll tax fiasco was that a culture of “can’t pay won’t pay” grew up, and it has now firmly taken root. By consistently writing off such large amounts, the Council is nourishing this culture when it should be attempting to kill it off.

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