£15m council tax debts in Northumberland at 'highest ever level'

Council tax debts in Northumberland stood at almost £15 million in March - their ‘highest ever level’.

Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 7:34 pm
Northumberland County Council

Northumberland’s balance sheet is “still suffering” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Successive lockdowns, closed courts and furloughed staff have all combined to leave bosses struggling to process their bills and invoices.

And it meant that by the end of September this year, “sundry” debts alone, including for social care provision, stood at more than £33 million – an £11 million rise on the same point in 2020.

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This included a single invoice for property management of £4.740 million, one of the largest single debts on the books, which has now been paid.

“We’re still suffering from the impact of Covid,” said Keith Teasdale, Northumberland County Council’s recovery manager.

“There’s been an increase in the number of people receiving care, coupled with delays in getting court appointed deputies and lasting power of attorneys.

“There’s also deferred payment agreements, which can lead to increases in the debt figure.

“During the pandemic there was a need to raise waste invoices which, coupled with lockdowns, led to a delay in bills going out.”

The pandemic has also taken a toll on collection rates for council tax, despite schemes intended to soften the blow for households feeling the pinch due to furlough and economic uncertainty.

At the end of March this year, council tax arrears for the county stood at almost £15 million, the “highest ever level” and one of the biggest year-on-year increases since at least 2018.

In the first half of the 2021/22 financial year alone more than 21,500 first reminder notices were sent out, along with 9,404 court summons.

Mr Teasdale said: “In relation to council tax and business rates, in 2021 there was a hold on recovery action taking place.

“The courts were closed for a period of time, which meant recovery action started late.”

He added: “Recovery action has only recently restarted in the current financial year and because of that a number of residents will have arrears which are carried over from the last financial year.”

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporter