Thurrock Council is planning to take a hard line against thousands of residents who are refusing to pay their Council Tax.
Over the past 18 months the Council has managed to recover around £1½ million in Council Tax debts, but there is still over £3 million outstanding.
A group consisting of councillors from both main parties and senior officers has been set up to look at debt recovery policies. One early decision of the group is that the Council’s Corporate Director of Finance and Corporate Governance will oversee further court action against the worst offenders, seeking imprisonment if necessary.
This week around 200 of those owing the Council the most money will be receiving a letter detailing how they can pay their debt immediately and the steps the Council will take if they do not — some of the debts go back to the year 2000 and around £1¼ million is owed from 2009.
Over the coming weeks, letters will be going to other long-standing debtors. In all there are over 2,200 of them.
The letter will make it clear that continued failure to work with the Council and arrange to clear these debts is not acceptable.
Continued failure will lead to the Council taking court action which could end in arrest and a prison sentence.
Cllr Barry Johnson, who chaired the panel of members and officers, said: “The vast majority of residents do pay their Council Tax and it is only fair to those who do that the Council now takes a much firmer stance with the residents who do not.
“This is not something we want to do, but Thurrock is facing having to make cuts worth millions of pounds over the coming years and if we can recover a substantial proportion of what we are owed, the cuts can be reduced.”
Within this process debtors will be summonsed to attend a means enquiry at the Magistrates’ Court. The court will review information presented to decide if the failure to pay the debt is as a result of wilful refusal or culpable neglect. If the court decides either of these applies, it has the power to send the debtor to prison for up to 90 days.