Arun households owe £3.8m in unpaid council tax

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Arun district residents owe more than £3.8million in unpaid council tax – according to figures from a national charity.

Research by the National Debtline, a free advice service run by the charity Money Advice Trust, showed that households were behind on their bills by a cumulative total of £3,822,000 for 2014/15, up from £3,618,000 the year before.

The helpline received 173 calls from Arun residents in 2014, the third highest figure for local authority areas in Sussex behind Brighton and Hove, and Crawley.

Although Arun District Council is the collecting authority West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police also set their own precepts.

A spokesperson for Arun District Council said: “The vast majority of residents living in the Arun district pay their council tax. Last year Arun District Council sent out council tax bills totalling £86.6million and £85million was collected. We continue to collect the remainder.

“The council takes the recovery of council tax very seriously. Just because a debt is an old debt it doesn’t mean the local authority won’t make every effort to ensure it is paid in full.

“Before the council considers taking any legal action, customers are given at least four opportunities to contact us if they are struggling to pay. Customers are sent reminders which provide information on who they can contact for help. The reminders also explain what happens if no contact or payment is made. A ’Managing your Money’ leaflet can be supplied which offers clear advice on how to deal with debts and how to deal with creditors.

“If people do not act on the correspondence we can, and do, take them to the magistrates’ court.”

Debts are not written off after a certain period of time, and although cases are looked at on an indivual basis, they would only be submitted for write-off in ‘extreme circumstances’.

People in arrears are given advice on welfare benefits, the contact details of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, while those in financial difficulty can be referred to Arun’s money advisor who assists customers with multiple debts owed to the council.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “We are seeing more and more people seek help with council tax arrears – but the fact that Arun residents owe £3,822,000 makes us concerned that many more people in the area are struggling alone. Free debt advice services such as National Debtline are here to help. We would like to see local authorities do everything they can to help residents who are falling behind to seek the free advice that can turn their lives around. We know that the earlier a problem is caught, the better the outcome.

“I would urge anyone in the Arun district who is struggling to make their council tax payments to contact National Debtline as soon as possible. Our expert advisers are on hand to work through your situation and help you get back on track with your finances.”

National Debtline offers free, independent and confidential advice 24 hours a day online at www.nationaldebtline.org and on 0808 808 4000, Monday to Friday 9am to 9pm, Saturday 9.30am to 1pm.

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