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New service launched for Council Tax debt collection

A new debt-collection service set up by the Anglia Revenues Partnership (ARP) will enforce the collection of Council Tax while protecting vulnerable residents from hikes in debt collection fees.

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It will also ensure that enforcement charges are incurred by debtors only as a last resort.

The move brings the service in-house. It follows an increase in April 2014 in the set statutory fees charged to debtors by Enforcement Agencies to recover unpaid Council Tax charges.

Councillor Chris Seaton, Fenland District Council's Cabinet member responsible for finance and ARP's vice-chairman, said:"This new service will be firm but fair. We remain determined to ensure that everyone who is liable to pay Council Tax does so and we will chase them up if they don't.

"But we also know that some people do struggle to make the payments, so enforcement charges should only be imposed on debtors as a last resort, after all reasonable attempts have been made to collect the money they owe.

"If someone is having real problems dealing with their Council Tax debts, council officers will seek to help them by referral to debt advice agencies and by setting up realistic payment arrangements."

Before April 2014 no fee was charged before a visit was made by Enforcement Agencies to a debtor's property; subsequent fees were set at a reasonable level with charges for the first and second visits amounting to a maximum charge of £42.50. Any further costs in respect of taking possession and sale of goods were set at a reasonable level.

However, the new statutory fees scale introduced in April 2014 saw these charges rocket to include a set £75 administration charge, an enforcement charge of £235 and a further payment of £110 for the sale of the debtor's goods.

By bringing the service in house ARP will be able to engage directly with debtors who are experiencing financial difficulties, and refer them to money-management advice, supporting them in paying Council Tax arrears and helping them to break out of their cycle of debt.

As private bailiffs will no longer be used, the surplus of fees charged, which are expected to amount to approximately £150,000 per annum, will be distributed amongst the seven partner Councils and used to support services to residents.  The new service comes into operation at the end of this month (July 2015).

The Anglia Revenues Partnership was established in 2003 by founder members Breckland and Forest Heath Councils to provide a Council Tax, benefits and business rates service. Over the past 11 years the partnership has expanded to include East Cambridgeshire, Fenland, St Edmundsbury, Waveney and Suffolk Coastal Councils. The partnership provides a high-quality, value for money service for participating councils.

Article added July 27, 2015