H&F Council Writes Off Over £1.5m in Unpaid Tax

But London-wide figures are hard to compare

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Hammersmith and Fulham council has written off more than £1.5 million of unpaid council tax, according to figures out this week.

The statistics, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, show that H&F gave up chasing £1,632,000, and it appeared 10th in a league table of London boroughs.

“It seems like a massive figure, but it’s not. That figure refers to almost a whole decade,” a Hammersmith and Fulham spokeswoman told ShepherdsBushW12.com.

The statistics show that in neighbouring boroughs, Ealing wrote off £141,000 while Richmond left £123,000 of council tax uncollected, suggesting they were the most successful London councils at collecting the tax. However, Richmond council confirmed that their figure covered a one-year period only, from 2005-6.

In 2006-7, H&F collected 96.1% of its council tax; Richmond, by comparison, collected 98.5%.

Explaining this discrepancy, the H&F spokeswoman said: “They’re outer boroughs, we’re an inner borough. With Richmond, you’ve got people who are more willing to pay. People there have got a bit more money”.

She said the borough’s character had to be taken into consideration: “We have such a transient population here and people move on without leaving a forwarding address. We’d be spending more taxpayers’ money trying to chase them”.

In February, a Hammersmith man was sentenced to more than three weeks in jail after consistently refusing to pay his council tax.

H&F said it had spent four years chasing the man for the unpaid tax money and the prison option was a last resort.

Commenting on the case, Councillor Greg Smith, Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour, said: “We are committed to making sure council tax cheats do not get away with this type of behaviour. I hope this case will encourage others to pay their council tax on time and in full.”

The Liberal Democrats, however, want to see council tax scrapped altogether.

“It's expensive to administer and discriminates unfairly against those on lower incomes - especially pensioners,” a statement on the H&F Lib Dem website says.

Commenting on the writing off of millions of pounds of council tax across the country, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, Julia Goldsworthy said: "When councils are already taking extreme measures to collect unpaid council tax, such as using bailiffs and even making people file for bankruptcy, it’s clear that the council tax system is failing”.

"This is an unfair tax that overstretched families are struggling to pay and councils are spending huge amounts of money and time trying to collect. It’s time that it was abolished and replaced with a local income tax based on the ability to pay, and not property prices," she added.

 

April 11, 2008