Bedford Borough Council charges residents around £95 million in council tax a year and successfully collected just over 97 per cent last year.
A report presented to the Budget & Corporate Services Overview & Scrutiny Committee last week (Thursday, 26 May) gave an overview of the council tax collected in the year 2021/2022 (97.1 per cent).
Jill Evans, chief officer for finance at the council, said: “The reality is we need to collect it over a number of years, it just doesn’t just end and then that’s it.
“The average collected over a longer period of time is 99.24 per cent, which is a very, very good council tax collection rate.”
Ms Evans said the council’s collection rate is “good” when compared to other local authorities.
A freedom of information (FOI) request submitted in April asked the council about collecting the debt.
This included if it checks if debtors could be included in the “vulnerable” category, as defined by the National Standards for Enforcement Agents, before issuing an account to bailiffs (‘enforcement agents’).
The FOI response said: “The council will always encourage its taxpayers to contact the council to discuss and agree a payment plan. In the absence of any contact, accounts are checked.
“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the taxpayer to advise the council of any vulnerabilities they may have that are defined by the National Standards for Enforcement Agents.”
The council was also asked if it regularly checks if its appointed bailiffs are carrying out their duties correctly and within the law.
The council said: “Enforcement Agents are advised to make contact with the council should they feel a taxpayer may meet the vulnerability criteria.
“Spot checks are also carried out on cases to ensure compliance to the legislation. The Council also chairs regular meetings with its Enforcement Agents to ensure compliance.”
The council did not answer detailed questions on liability orders, charges added to debtors, and complaints about bailiffs over the five financial years 2016/17 to 2020/21.
The Magistrates Court issues liability orders following a court hearing.
They detail who is responsible for the debt, how much it is, what costs have been awarded and the date and place of the hearing.
The council said: “The Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not oblige the council to comply with a request for information if it estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the ‘appropriate limit’.
“The council has therefore decided to refuse the last part of your request.”
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter