SUNDERLAND has an £11million council tax black hole, according to Government figures.
Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, revealed the figure after a written question to his department to outline by how much each UK local authority was in arrears.
However, council bosses on Wearside insist the £10,989,000 figure, based on quarterly returns of council tax and non-domestic rates forms, is misleading.
The believe the city has the highest council tax collection rate in the North East.
But campaigners say more needs to be done to prevent residents facing even higher tax bills.
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Sunderland can’t afford to leave 10 million in council tax uncollected, as other residents will be left to pick up the tab through higher taxes themselves.
“It’s no wonder some people are struggling to pay their council tax, though, after the last decade of rate hikes which meant that many people’s bills doubled.
“Council bosses must distinguish between those who can’t pay and those who refuse to.
“Tough action should be taken to deal with those who refuse, while others who are simply struggling with rising bills should be helped with easier ways to pay.”
Councillor Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council, defended the authority’s collection record.
He said: “Sunderland City Council has the highest collection rate in Tyne and Wear, standing at 97.4 per cent in 2011/2012, and, overall, expects to collect 99 per cent of all council tax.
“Our residents have an excellent record of paying their council tax, which means that our arrears are half of those of some other local authorities of a similar size elsewhere in the country.
“Sunderland City Council collects more than £3million arrears per annum.
“We have achieved our high collection rates by providing people with advice and practical help such as monthly and weekly instalment plans, with information available at 520 5551.
“The £10.9million quoted in the figures relates largely to the last three financial years, and does not take into account recent council tax payments, whilst the remainder of the arrears, it is anticipated, will be collected by recovery action such as attachment of earnings and legal proceedings.”
Sunderland City Council is by no means the worst offender, according to the Coalition, with Liverpool City Council topping the list at £113,758,000, but nor is it the best.