Council tax debt of £23.2million owed by Thanet residents over 30-year period

Council tax

By Suzanne Martin

A Freedom of Information request to Thanet District Council has revealed the total value of unpaid council tax debt owed in the district up to the end of the 2022-2023 financial year is a staggering £23,202,000.

The figure has built up over the past 30 years, since the charge was first introduced, and includes £2m related to court summons fees.

Of the £23.2million the bulk – 71%- is owed as Kent County Council’s share of the precept. Just below £3m is owed to Thanet council.

A statement issued by Thanet District Council said, “The quoted sum of £23.202m is a cumulative historic figure and reflects the total outstanding amount for the past 30 years – since 1993. Of this sum, £2m relates to court summons fees.”

Figures released under the same request show the debt has increased by almost nine million pounds since pre-pandemic levels in 2017-18, when it stood at £14,488,000.

A Thanet council spokesperson said: “The amount specifically owed to Thanet District Council is £2.986m. The remainder is owed to Kent County Council (71%), Kent Police (11%) Kent Fire (4%) and will be repaid directly from arrears payments received.

“There is no obligation upon Thanet District Council to pay the amounts owed to the different organisations in advance of receiving payments from customers.

“The council’s ongoing funding arrangements are not impacted by this.

“Thanet District Council is the collection agency with responsibility for billing and collection on behalf of a number of agencies including the county council.”

The net budget requirement for TDC to run between 2023/24 is estimated at £20.755 million, an increase of £2.717 million on last year’s budget.

Figures were also requested regarding vulnerable residents in council tax debt. Thanet council says it does not hold data on how many cases were taken back from bailiffs after the authority accepted the individual was vulnerable.

A spokesperson said: “In any cases where we identify that a customer is vulnerable we instruct the bailiffs to stop pursuing the debt. We do not record this data because decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis and are not recorded on our Council Tax system.”

Figures show that in the last 12 months, the council has instructed bailiffs to enforce liability orders for non-payment of council tax against 10,105 households, each subject to additional costs.

Following a court hearing a liability order may be issued by the magistrates. This gives the council the authority to collect unpaid Council Tax by serving an order on a person’s employer or the Department for Work and Pensions. This means they have to send some of the money they usually pay the person to the council instead.

It is also possible that enforcement officers will be sent to a person’s home to remove items and sell them at public auction to raise the money owed both to them and the council.

A final option for non-payment is to return to court and this could result in a prison sentence.

If the magistrates consider that a person has refused or neglected to pay they can:

  • commit them to prison for a maximum of 90 days, or
  • commit them to prison for a maximum of 90 days and suspend the sentence for a set amount to be paid.

If the magistrates consider a person has not refused or neglected to pay, they can:

  • dismiss the case, for them to make arrangements to pay, directly with the council (if an arrangement is made and then not kept to, committal proceedings can start again)
  • in exceptional circumstances the magistrates may order that some or all of the arrears should not be paid. This is not a decision which is made very often but if this is decided the amount is written off.

In 2020, the government announced that it would provide local authorities in England with £500 million of new grant funding to support economically vulnerable people and households in their local area with the expectation that the majority of the hardship fund will be used to provide council tax relief, alongside existing local council tax support schemes.

These discretionary discounts decreased the amount of council tax available to be collected by local authorities in 2020-21.

District councillor John Worrow (Thanet Independents) said: “I have recently received a large volume of emails from residents finding it difficult to pay their council tax, some of whom have expressed their anger over council taxpayers money being  wasted on poorly thought-out projects and pay-offs to former council officers.

“Recently as candidates for Margate’s Garlinge ward, my colleague John Dennis and I, were campaigning for lower council tax,  and now having been elected with 58% of the vote we feel duty bound to draw attention to the difficulty that many residents are having paying their council tax bills.

“I was shocked, but not surprised, after learning that the total value of unpaid debt owed in the district is £23,202,000 up to the end of 2022-2023.

“The problem in Thanet and throughout Kent as whole, is that the council tax is far too high. It wouldn’t be so bad if residents money were being spent on things the community needs, instead of on vanity projects, and pay-offs to former employees.

“As a former chair of the council’s Governance & Audit Committee, I feel that Sir Keir Starmer’s pledge to freeze council tax (Guardian 30th march 2023) is a step in the right direction.

“But for this to happen Thanet council needs be run properly.  This can be achieved without cutting frontline services if councillors stop paying out hundred of thousands of pounds on former council officers.

“We are in a cost of living crisis like no other, so now is the time for the political parties in Thanet to start working together.

“Thanet’s administration needs to take alternative legal advice, and when it’s time to set the council’s budget, they need to freeze, or better still, lower the council tax.”

Debt Advice

Council tax counts as a “priority debt”, but if you are on a low income, you may be entitled to Council Tax Support. You may also get a reduction if someone in the household has a disability or if you live alone. It is also worth checking whether you are entitled to additional benefits or income.

National Debtline

National Debtline offers phone and webchat services in England and Wales.

Telephone: 0808 808 4000

Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm

Saturday, 9:30am to 1pm

Find out about call charges

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice offers phone and webchat services. They also have advice centres in England, Wales and Scotland.

Telephone (England): 0800 144 8848

Telephone (Wales): 0800 702 2020

Telephone (Scotland): 0800 028 1456

Webchat service

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  1. They summonsed my daughter to court for non payment of council tax, so I turned up to court with her and went to sit in the Dock, the Judge said you can not bring a baby in to court and I said but you have summonsed her. She was only 6 months of age.

    • Who gave your daughter’s name to the council as the owner or tenant in the first instance ?

      Why did you not question it when you received the bill in the wrong name ?

      Do you not have anything better to do than waste the court’s time ?

      Why did you not question it when you received the reminder in the wrong name ?

      Why did you not question it when you received the final notice in the wrong name ?

  2. So, what % of the total Council Tax due for the same period does that represent ? It’s meaningless without some context.

  3. That’s what you get when you tax the poor people into poverty
    by making bills too high for them to pay. I rent property out at low rents £500 per month is the maximum rent I charge 3 bed houses the lowest is £200 2 bed flat per month. None of my tenants (63 dwellings) ever miss their payments to me because I’m fair and not a greedy landlord.

  4. Sparky, my property’s very rarely come available but if one does I’m more than happy to help you find one.

  5. Nieces (2) in Medway rent from the same landlady (a solicitor). The landlady charges a very fare rent. Perhaps the profit is made when the properties is sold. She also has a waiting list.
    A Landlord in Westgate charged his (100) tenants -many of them elderly- a very fare rent. Unfortunately on his demise the properties went to the CofE. The CofE increased the rent so much so that the tenants had to leave. The properties were sold at market value. The landlords philosophy was that by not charging too much rent his properties were looked after. The churches philosophy was Give me Give me Give me.

    • If that was the Ivor Read ( excuse spelling) estate, then yes the beneficiaries of his will were ruthless in extracting the maximum value from the properties, but it has to be said many were in an awful state of repair , which would have been the real reason the rents were so low.

  6. Waste of space over budget parkway, would have run some schemes to help struggling payers, however TDC and KCC want to plant a station which will be a muggers paradise, in the middle of nowhere, with no way of getting to it without driving, unlike Ramsgate station which is in walking distance. So what did it cost 40 or so million to save 2 minutes, 20 million a minute, no return on that in our lifetime, watch the price hikes to pay for yet another grave error of judgement by an authority which can’t afford it. Still nice to see them patting themselves on the back on TV, even the network rail guy struggled to put a positive spin on it. #buildonbrownfieldbuildonmanston

  7. These figures are meaningless unless they include the following:
    (1) Any civil debt that has resulted in some form of court action ceases to be owed after six years. Does this gross figure include any of these debts going back ovr six years?
    (2)Any well run Council should require its Chief Finance Officer to publish annually the sums written off and are now non-collectable. This can be due to death, being untraceable, moved to North Korea etc. Does this annual sum get included in these sums – it shouldn’t do!
    (3) Councillor Worrow is of course right that many people find it hard ti pay these sums – though they are much less than amounts in the big cities – but this is due to successive governments cutting Central funding after they had taken stuff over. Allow local councils to keep all taxes, charges and receipts for their local area and things would look very different.

      • The article states this sum is currently outstanding.

        Therefore, write-offs for bankruptcies, deaths, un-traceable, etc. will have already been excluded. Liability Orders will have been obtained within six years of the debt falling due and therefore it is not time-barred.

        TDC disbanded its Recovery Department in 2010 in favour of attachment to earnings orders and attachment to benefits orders. That clearly has not worked, has it ?

        The Recovery Department made arrangements for payment with those who were struggling and ensured those entitled to council tax reductions received them.

        Those who were more reluctant to pay, avoided payment, or simply refused to pay were taken back to court for committal. This may result in a suspended prison sentence with an order to pay or immediate commitment which tended to coerce payment in full quite quickly in most cases.

        Saving the salaries of half a dozen officers has clearly cost TDC far more in unpaid debts – and more importantly resulted in £23m NOT being spent on public services.

  8. Nothing special with TDC compared with every other council, just Google it, millions in owed council !

  9. What I find so disturbing is that 10,105 people have not paid their Council Tax! That is a lot of people, are they all so cash strapped they can’t pay! It would be interesting to know what as a percentage of Thanet Council Payers they represent? Is this due to 13 years of Tory Government misrule?

    • Dumpton – read the article – debt accrued since 1993! Other political parties been in power both nationally and locally. Try to be accurate with your observations.

  10. Nothing about if our properties were banded wrong in the first place, my property is exactly the same as the others in my road yet I’m in a higher band, I have disputed this and sent photos of my street and houses, they refuse to change it, so I’m either owed thousands which they choose to ignore, or my neighbours all owe thousands!!!

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