Sunderland bosses left with £4.4million bill for unpaid council tax

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CASH-strapped council bosses in Sunderland were left with a £4.4million bill from unpaid council tax and business rates last year.

The authority – which faces cuts of £37million over the next 12 months – was left with a shortfall of £2,365,000 in council tax and £2,100,000 in non-domestic rates in 2012-2013, making a total of £4,465,000.

However council chiefs today said they had the highest council tax collection rate in Tyne and Wear.

Deputy leader Councillor Harry Trueman said: “Sunderland City Council has the highest council tax collection rate in Tyne and Wear, standing at 97.2 per cent in 2012/13 and, overall, expects to collect 99 per cent of all bills.

“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.

“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.

“We will continue to take a robust approach to seek collection of any sums outstanding at the end of 2012/13 financial year.

“We take a similar approach to collecting non-domestic rates, providing practical advice and support to businesses in difficult economic times to collect revenues for the benefit of the local economy, whilst at the same time being tough on those businesses who choose to avoid paying what is due.

“Our collection rate for 2012/13 showed us to be in the top one-third of metropolitan councils for collection of non-domestic rates, although the difficult economic climate continues to have an impact.”

Durham County Council – which faces budget cuts of more than £20million – was owed more than £14.7million at the end of the 2012/13 financial year, according to the figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The county council was owed £10,177,000 in council tax, and £4,559,000 in non-domestic rates, making a total of £14,736,000.

Durham County Council’s head of finance Paul Darby blamed the introduction of a new computer system for a backlog in collections.

But he stressed that in-year figures are less important than overall performance and said the authority aimed to reduce the shortfall to 1.5 per cent over the next three years.

Mr Darby said: “In 2012/13 we introduced the new system, resolving the backlogs that had built up during migration and catching up on recovery work.

“We are now up to date and are continuing to improve in-year and overall collection performance whilst remaining below average cost of collection.”