Following a request at the March meeting of Northumberland County Council’s corporate services committee, the figures were revealed in a debt recovery report to the meeting on Monday, July 13.
Arrears totalled £11.632million at the end of the 2019-20 financial year on March 31, up from £9.559million the previous year. In 2016-17, the total was £9.971million and in 2017-18, it was £9.409million.
Of the £11.6million, £5.376million was arrears from 2019-20 itself, with the remainder rolled over from previous years. This figure too was an increase on the previous year – up from £3.935million, which was in line with the two years before.
Last year was the first in which the new council tax support scheme came into force, reducing the maximum level of support from 100% to 92%, which saw 12,500 people receive a bill for the very first time.
In the report, this is highlighted as a factor in both the highest level of arrears since 2013-14 and the in-year collection rates being below target and performance in prior years. Other reasons include an increase in new homes in the county and the impact of Covid-19 on collection in March this year.
However, the meeting heard that the collection rates in Northumberland remain the best of the 12 local authorities in the North East.
The arrears figures also show significant variations across different wards, ranging from £20,000 in Hexham West to £602,000 in Ashington’s Hirst ward.
The wards with the highest amounts of arrears largely correlate to those with the highest levels of deprivation.
For example, arrears as of March 31 this year in three of the Ashington wards – Hirst, College and Ashington Central – totalled £1.485million, while in Hexham’s three wards, it was £291,000 and in Morpeth’s three £250,000.
The four Ponteland wards had total arrears of £323,000, while the three in Bedlington and Berwick totalled £524,000 and £496,000 respectively.
The Morpeth total across three wards is lower than in 16 of the individual wards in the south-east of the county.
Outside the south-east the highest levels of arrears were seen in Alnwick (a double ward) – £270,000, Druridge Bay – £265,000, and Prudhoe South – £212,000.
The vast majority of the arrears relates to band A properties – £9.117million, which means that while more than 60% of Northumberland’s properties are in band A, they account for 78.4% of the arrears, with another 8.7% relating to band B.
In the current financial year, more than 12,000 households will once again pay no council tax, after the local authority received £3.4million from the Government’s £500million hardship fund.
More than 15,000 households are entitled to up to £150 off their 2020-21 bills, with 12,262 paying nothing.