COUNCIL tax dodgers on Wearside have run up £4.5million in unpaid bills, the Echo can reveal.
Cash-strapped Sunderland City Council is owed £2.2million in outstanding council tax from 2010/11, £1.3million from the previous year, and £1million from 2008/09.
Conservative group leader Councillor Robert Oliver said the figures revealed the city was losing a huge amount of income when times were tight.
“Although the percentage of unpaid council tax in Sunderland is lower than in some other local authorities such as Manchester, where 10 per cent went uncollected in 2009/2010, the £4.5million outstanding represents a massive loss of income.
“Unlike Manchester, Sunderland does not have a large transient population, which makes it hard to collect council tax, so they should be able to get most of the missing tax in by taking non-payers to court.
“I would urge the council to continue to be as firm as possible in pursuing non-payers who are letting the rest of us down and wasting resources through the cost of taking claims to court.”
The figures, revealed through a Freedom of Information request, showed the amounts still unpaid at the end of September, as well as that thousands were taken to court.
Sunderland council has 124,700 properties liable to pay council tax. It says the amount still owed would continue to fall in line with previous years as tax is collected.
Fiona Brown, head of transactional services, said: “The council continues to collect council tax in respect of previous years. The £2.2million is more recent debt of which some relates to March 2011.
“So whilst it is currently higher than the two previous years, this figure will continue to decrease and fall in line with earlier years.”
In the last three years, thousands of Wearsiders were taken to court for not paying their bills.
In relation to unpaid tax for 2008/09, 9,161 cases went to court, as did 9,040 for 2009/10.
The figure dropped to 5,967 for 2010/11 but the council said this number could rise before the end of the financial year as it continues to collect tax in respect of previous years.
The Freedom of Information request also revealed the number of reminder letters the council sends out.
In relation to 2008/09, there were 35,477 letters sent, while for 2009/10 there were 23,634 posted, and 16,931 so far for 2010/11.
Ms Brown said: “An increase in direct debit payers and revised procedures has resulted in a decrease in the number of reminders and accounts taken to court in 2010/2011.”
Durham County Council had £5.8million in council tax left unpaid from 2009/10 and almost £6million from 2010/11.
It has spent £55,162 on 130,000 council tax reminder letters in the last two years.
The information also showed the number of people taken to court because they had not paid their council tax.
In 2009/10, 22,950 liability orders were obtained, compared to 18,946 in 2010/11.
Durham County Council was unable to provide information for 2008/09 as it was before it became a unitary authority.