350 taken to court every day over unpaid council tax bills

MORE than 350 people a day are now being taken to court for failing to pay their council tax in Edinburgh, new figures have revealed.

&#149 Phil Wheeler

The number of summary warrants issued soared to 95,549 between last April and March, compared with 56,940 two years before.

The unpaid tax pursued through the courts amounted to 34 million during the year, with 18.5m of that total remaining outstanding.

Housing groups say the jump is another sign residents are struggling to meet their bills in the tough economic climate.

A missed instalment results in a reminder notice being sent, if this is ignored a warrant requiring the full sum of tax to be paid is issued.

As a last resort, the council has powers to seek inhibition of a property, which prevents a home being sold or loans being secured against it, or sequestration of the individual.

Councillor Phil Wheeler, convener of the council's finance committee, said: "It is only fair for the majority of citizens who do pay their council tax that we take appropriate steps to recover the outstanding sums."

Residents have been hit with a total of 351,451 summary warrants during the last five years, successfully recovering 87.8m of unpaid council tax. However, the figures, released to the Evening News under freedom of information laws, shows that 63.2m of council tax arrears pursued through these court actions are still outstanding.

Councillor Ricky Henderson, finance spokesman for Labour on the council, said: "The council is duty-bound to pursue people who don't pay. The number of summary warrants suggests that more people are finding it hard to pay their bills. That's a position of concern."

Councillor Iain Whyte, finance spokesman for the council's Tory group, added: "During difficult economic times, the council should redouble its efforts to make sure the money is collected while letting people with financial problems know about the help available."

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity, said: "Calls to Shelter Scotland's helpline show that debt problems are on the increase. While people need to pay their council tax, there is financial help for those who can't. For free advice call 0808-800 4444 or go to www.shelter.org.uk"

LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYMENT TRIPLES

The number of people in Edinburgh spending their second consecutive Christmas on the dole has more than tripled in over the past two years, a Scottish Trades Union Congress analysis of labour market statistics revealed today.

In December 2008, 520 people in the Capital had been claiming Jobseeker's Allowance for more than 12 months, but by the end of last month the figure had soared to 1605.

East Lothian saw the biggest rise in Scotland - 514 per cent from 35 to 215 - while the figure in Midlothian more than quadrupled from 60 to 280 and West Lothian's more than tripled from 205 to 705.

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