Unpaid Southend council tax and business rate bills reach more than £5million

More than £5million in taxes have not been collected by Southend Council since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been revealed.

Since the pandemic began Southend Council paused all debt collection services to support families and businesses across the borough who are suffering the consequences of the virus.

However, it has emerged that this has meant £5.1million in council tax and business rates have not been collected.

Speaking at a Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting on Thursday night, Labour council leader Councillor Ian Gilbert said there is a “balance to be struck” between recovering the money the council needs to recover whilst also being sensitive to the fact people are struggling.

He said: “Our advice is always for people who are struggling to get in touch with us so that we can negotiate a repayment plan that will suit them.

“I know from personal experience having dealt with case work that our finance team is always very accommodating when people approach them with genuine problems so that is the primary way of managing it.

“Obviously, there will come a point that we will have to start enforcement if there are people who have still not engaged.”

The council’s finance director Joe Chesterton backed Mr Gilbert’s appeal for people to contact the council if they have been unable to pay their taxes.

He said: “We have had substantial contact from the business sector and council tax payers in terms of looking at staged repayment plans through to the end of the financial year and indeed some of the larger business rates and commercial rates we are looking to go beyond the end of the financial year so if people come and talk to the council about their situation we will make arrangements for them to make payments to the council.

“As the leader has said it is a balancing act as we are talking about a £5.1million gap in terms of our collection which is a substantial sum of money.

“Clearly if you don’t get on top of debt collection early enough the debt keep continuing to grow so it is important we take action.”

He added the council has sent out “soft” reminder letters which “hint” people have not paid their council tax.

The level of debt has come as the council struggles to find way to plug a £10.3million funding gap which has been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mick Ferris

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