Poverty and Inequality

04.10.17

Newcastle latest to adopt ‘moral duty’ council tax protocol

Newcastle has become the latest council to sign up to the Citizen’s Advice Council Tax Protocol, pledging to collect debt in a fair and responsible manner.

Local authorities have a legal obligation to collect council tax, but each year scores of families struggle to pay. The protocol, developed by Citizen’s Advice, debt advice agencies and local authorities, has been adopted by councils across the country, and the LGA is urging more to follow suit.

Problems with council tax arrears have risen sharply since 2013, when the previous protocol was introduced. In the last year, Citizen’s Advice have helped 201,000 people in England who have had difficulties in paying their council tax.

The protocol aims to improve the experience of those who find themselves in arrears, whilst still ensuring that monies owed are collected, improving councils’ debt collection practices, ensuring that action is taken early, and that people get the help that they need. It also aims to help councils recoup more outstanding tax and save money elsewhere, particularly in housing and mental health services.

Last year a study by Citizen’s Advice revealed that 69% of those in council tax arrears found it more difficult to clear their debt as a result of their local authority’s actions, with 48% having received a visit from bailiffs, and 71% having further charges added to their bills.

Cllr Veronica Dunn, cabinet member for resources at Newcastle City Council, said: “We have a duty to collect the tax but where people are in genuine difficulties, we also have a moral duty to help them. We don’t want to make their situation worse, but we do use council tax to fund vital services, so we like to strike a balance.

“I am pleased to sign this Council Tax Protocol. It shows our commitment to clear communication, listening to people in tough times and helping them find a way forward that is good for them and good for the local authority.”

By signing up to the new protocol, local authorities demonstrate a commitment to collecting debt in a fair and responsible manner.

Chief executive of Citizen’s Advice Newcastle, Shona Alexander, added: “Council tax arrears are one of the major causes of debt problems for the people who come to us for advice.  In the last 12 months we advised 526 Newcastle residents about their Council Tax debt problems. We know from this casework that poor collection practices can quickly add to a resident's debt problems. They cause stress, anxiety and depression which, in turn, hinders their health, family life and employment prospects and lead to more calls for assistance from the council and its partners.

“We know that when local councils and debt advice charities like ours work closely together, debt collection processes can be improved, to really help people struggling with payments.  This prevents charges escalating, eases stress and reduces both collection costs and the demand on local public services.”

In the past 12 months, Citizen’s Advice Newcastle has provided advice on debt to 1,971 people, with the largest area being council tax debt.

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