Wealden residents owe more almost £6m 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 in Lewes were behind on their bills by a cumulative total of £2,011,000 in 2014/15, while the full figure for the Wealden district was £5,979,000.
The helpline received 89 calls from Wealden residents in 2014, and 112 from Lewes households.
Although both Lewes and Wealden district councils are collecting authorities East Sussex County Council and Sussex Police also set their own council tax precepts.
Alex White, Wealden District Council’s head of customer Services and Revenues, said: “The council collected 98.3 per cent of the council tax due in 2014-15. We aim to collect all outstanding debts where reasonable to do so.
“We operate a council tax reduction scheme to help householders on low incomes.
“When people fall into arrears, we work with them to find payment arrangements that are affordable and sustainable. If customers have difficulty budgeting or have other debts affecting their ability to pay council tax, we will help them to seek debt advice.
“We work closely with local advice agencies to make sure advice provided is professional, free and available locally.
We would advise anybody worried about their council tax bill to contact us.”
A spokesperson for Lewes District Council added: “The arrears referred to reflect the total amount of council tax that remains unpaid since 1993.
“As of today the figure has reduced to £1,497,000 which is less than 0.2 per cent of the £800 million billed to taxpayers since 1993.
“Lewes District Council collects council tax on behalf of East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, East Sussex Fire Authority and local towns and parishes. Just ten per cent of the arrears, approximately £149,700, relates directly to money owed to Lewes District Council.
“We adopt a ‘firm but fair’ approach to council tax arrears and the action taken depends on the level of response from the debtor. In protecting the public purse the Council pursues every possible avenue to collect the arrears, including the use of enforcement agents, charging orders and bankruptcy proceedings where appropriate. The ‘writing off’ of debt is considered on a case by case basis.
“The council currently operates a generous council tax support scheme for those households on low incomes. There is also an option to apply for discretionary discounts in exceptional circumstances. We fully support the local Citizen Advice Bureau, who are able to provide debt advice to the most needy and we urge people in financial difficulty to seek advice as soon as possible.”
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “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 East Sussex 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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