Council tax dodgers are stealing from us all, says Leicester mayor
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has condemned council tax dodgers who have avoided paying nearly £3.5 million in the past three years.
He said that those who had not paid the charge were "stealing from everyone else in Leicester".
The authority has been forced to write off the cash after all attempts to collect it failed. A total of £1 million in unpaid council tax was written off last year, £1.3 million in 2009/10, and £1.1 million in 2008/09.
Sir Peter said: "Council tax helps to pay for the services that people use every day, from road maintenance and libraries to housing and care for the elderly.
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"People who deliberately avoid paying council tax and make no attempt to settle their outstanding payments are stealing from everyone else in Leicester."
The news comes at a time when the authority is one year into a four-year drive to save £100 million to help it balance the books.
Wheelchair user John Hargrave, 68, of Beaumont Leys, uses the Douglas Bader Day Centre, in Malabar Road, St Matthew's, which was threatened with closure earlier this year due to council funding cuts. The centre is now on a more stable financial footing.
He said: "Centres such as mine are a lifeline to people with disabilities and they simply wouldn't exist without the funding and support of the city council.
"It's disgraceful that some people simply aren't paying their council tax. It's everyone in the city who suffers as a result."
If a payment is missed, the council will send a reminder notice for the unpaid debt.
A council spokesman said the authority was willing to help people who were genuinely struggling financially to pay their way.
But if the reminder is ignored, a court summons that includes at least £55 in costs will be sent out.
Residents are given at least 14 days' notice of the court hearing date and the council takes no further action if the charge is paid in full before the hearing.
If the case reaches court and an order is made against a non-payer, the council can attempt to have the debt taken out of earnings or benefits. If, for whatever reason, that does not work, bailiffs can be called in.
The council can also file to make someone bankrupt if the outstanding amount is more than £750.
Finally, if all of this fails, the debtor can be jailed for up to three months.
When all of those steps have been taken and the council still does not have the money, it is written off.
Council tax is also written off when someone dies and their estate does not have enough money to cover the debt, and when someone simply cannot be traced by the council.
Figures released under Freedom of Information laws show that a total of £10 million of debt, including the council tax, has been written off by the city council in the past three years.
Some £4 million of the remainder was outstanding business rates which councils give to the Government.
The rest included unpaid council house rent and car parking fines.
Leicestershire County Council wrote-off £700,000 in the same period, but that does not include council tax or business rates which are collected by the district councils.