WORTHING residents owe more than £3m in unpaid council tax – according to figures from a national charity.
Research conducted by the National Debtline, a free advice service run by the charity Money Advice Trust, showed that households were behind on their bills by a cumulative total of £3,152,000 in 2014/15, down from £3,259,000 the year before.
The helpline received 135 calls from Worthing residents in 2014, which was the fifth highest figure across Sussex behind Brighton and Hove, Crawley, Arun, and Mid Sussex.
Although Worthing Borough Council is the collecting authority West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police also set their own council tax precepts.
A spokesman for Adur & Worthing Councils said: “Adur District and Worthing Borough Councils aim to employ a ‘firm but fair’ approach to collecting council tax.
“If a customer is in genuine financial difficulty, we always try to make realistic payment arrangements with them, as well as signposting them to financial support organisations including the West Sussex Credit Union, in whom both councils have made an investment to support those in the communities struggling with financial difficulties.
“We have no policy whereby debts are automatically written off simply due to their age and vigorously pursue unpaid bills while taking due regard of an individual’s circumstances.
“Worthing Borough Council has just written to most working age customers who previously had no council tax to pay as the result of receiving maximum council tax support but who now have something to pay for 2015/16, inviting them to contact us to correct what may just be a simple oversight - this is an approach which we prefer to going straight to enforcement action.”
The rolling amount of unpaid council tax in Worthing in 2014/15 was the third lowest across West Sussex. Only Crawley, at £2.6m, and Adur, £2.3m had lower figures.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “We are seeing more and more people seek help with council tax arrears – but the fact that Worthing residents owe £3,259,000 makes us concerned that many more people in the area are struggling alone. Free debt advice services such as National Debtline are here to help.
“We would like to see local authorities do everything they can to help residents who are falling behind to seek the free advice that can turn their lives around. We know that the earlier a problem is caught, the better the outcome.
“I would urge anyone in the Worthing borough who is struggling to make their council tax payments to contact National Debtline as soon as possible.
“Our expert advisers are on hand to work through your situation and help you get back on track with your finances.”
National Debtline offers free, independent and confidential advice 24 hours a day online at www.nationaldebtline.org and on 0808 808 4000, Monday to Friday 9am to 9pm, Saturday 9.30am to 1pm.
For more information on council tax and support in Worthing borough visit www.adur-worthing.gov.uk/council-tax
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