£600m in council tax uncollected

LOCAL authorities came under fire yesterday after new figures showed that £600 million in council tax remains uncollected since 1996.

The Scottish Conservatives accused councils of forcing current bills up because of their failure to collect the huge backlog.

And Tom McCabe, the finance minister, demanded improvement and urged those authorities with lower collection levels to seek advice from some of the better performing councils.

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The row blew up after Accounts Commission figures showed that although Scottish councils collected 92 per cent of council tax last year, about 600 million remains outstanding.

Collection rates for 2003-4, which went up for the fifth year in a row, varied from 85 per cent in Glasgow to 98 per cent in Orkney.

The gap in collection levels between Scotland and England has narrowed since 1996-97, when councils north of the Border collected 86.8 per cent of the amount due compared to 95.5 per cent in England.

In 2003-4, Scotland’s councils collected 91.7 per cent of tax, while in England the figure was 96.5 per cent.

Mr McCabe said: "There is simply no excuse for councils not to take all practical steps to collect unpaid council tax or community charge debts."

Brian Monteith, the finance spokesman for the Scottish Tories, also went on the attack: "If Scottish councils improved their collection rate, over 50 could be cut from the average band D household."

However, a spokesman for COSLA, the local authorities’ umbrella body, said councils were blamed when people not paying was the problem.