William Eichler 21 September 2016

Council tax problems ‘largest debt issue’ in Wales

Council tax arrears is now the largest debt issue in Wales, according to charity.

Citizens Advice Cymru has publised a new report - titled Fairness for all - Improving council tax debt collection in Wales - which revealed council tax debt represented 13% of all debt issues.

It also revealed the number of council tax arrears problems has steadily risen over the past five years.

Between 2014 and 2015 it became the largest single debt-related issue seen by the network in Wales, and over the last year 5,947 people contacted Citizens Advice for help with around 16,000 problems - an increase of 7% compared with the previous year.

Council tax benefit (CTB) was abolished in 2013 and the power to administer its replacement - council tax support (CTS) - was devolved to the Welsh Government, but with 10% less funding.

Cardiff has a national Council Tax Reduction (CTR) Scheme with a commitment to provide additional funding to local authorities, until at least 2016-17, to meet the full costs of the CTB system at the point of abolition. This means residents are receiving the same support they did under the CTB scheme.

However, despite this, council tax arrears problems have steadily increased.

Citizens Advice Cymru’s research found that low income is the largest contributory factor for people struggling to pay their council tax bills wherever they live.

The charity also highlighted a number of areas dealing with council tax collection where local authorities can improve their practices.

These included the perceived over-use of bailiffs, inadequate processes for identifying debtors in vulnerable situations, and debtors frequently being asked for repayments they simply can’t afford.

They also highlighted the need to make greater use of alternative repayment options and the need to improve communication, not only with debtor households but also within the local authority itself.

‘I find that the whole situation is particularly worrying, people need to be made aware of the severe consequences of not paying priority debts such as council tax,’ said Fran Targett, director of Citizens Advice Cymru.

‘They include local authorities taking enforcement action through the courts, and in extreme cases imprisonment.’

‘Our research emphasises the need for both local authorities and debtors to be more responsive earlier in the process to help ensure people’s circumstances are fully understood and more appropriate action is taken,’ Ms Targett continued.

‘We encourage people struggling to pay their bills to seek help as soon as possible. Once agencies like Citizens Advice are involved the critical factors which support things working well include trust, mutual respect and a willingness to listen to and act on advisers’ requests. This can result in a fairer outcome for the local authorities and the debtors.’

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