RESIDENTS across Bromsgrove owe £3.1million in unpaid council tax, according to the latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
And, with bills rising by 3.47 per cent from 2014/5 to 2015/16, the Money Advice Trust, which runs the National Debtline, is claiming not enough people are receiving the free advice they need to help them get a grip on their debts.
The £3.1million is up to March 31, 2016, and represents an increase on £2.7million from the previous year.
National Debtline receives around 250 calls each year from residents in Bromsgrove seeking advice on how to resolve their debt problems and bosses expect this number may increase with higher council tax bills adding to the already stretched households.
The charity, which also offers free online advice at www.nationaldebtline.org, said council tax was now the fastest growing type of problem debt it is helping people resolve with 25 per cent of all callers now in arrears, up from 14 per cent in 2007.
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said the level of unpaid council tax in Bromsgrove was concern.
“With people in the area now paying 3.47 per cent more in council tax than they were this time last year, there is a risk residents who are already behind will find it even more difficult to resolve their financial difficulty.”
She urged the district council to do everything it could to ensure those in difficulty were signposted to free advice to help get them back on track.
And she said anyone in Bromsgrove district finding it hard to meet their council tax payments should contact National Debtline or a local agency such as Citizens Advice as early as possible.
“The earlier you seek free advice, the quicker and easier the problem will be to solve.”
Amanda Singleton, Bromsgrove District Council’s head of customer access and financial support, said the authority fully supported the Money Advice Trust’s message that anyone struggling to pay their council tax should seek help as soon as possible, either from the council directly or from a voluntary money advice organisations the council works with.
“The high level of support and advice we provide does of course complement a robust stance on non-payment of council tax.
“We always try to work with customers to put sustainable repayment plans in place, for example the ‘£3.1 million’ quoted includes all the debts for which we already have sustainable arrangements in place going back 17 years.”
She added there was a range of options which could be implemented as a last resort, including debts being paid directly from benefits or earning, the seizing of possessions, bankruptcy or orders against property.
But she urged people to get in touch long before that became a possibility.
National Debtline offers free, independent and confidential advice 24 hours a day online at www.nationaldebtline.org and on 0808 808 4000, from 9am to 8pm Monday to Friday and between 9.30am and 1pm on Saturday.