The total council tax owed in England has risen by 6.6% in the past year.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government figures show that in 2017-18 local authorities collected a total of £28.0 billion in council tax, irrespective of the year to which it related. This was an increase of £1.4 billion, or 5.2%, over 2016-17. By the end of March 2018, they had collected £27.5 billion of council tax that related to 2017-18 and achieved an average in-year collection rate of 97.1%, a decrease of 0.1 percentage points over 2016-17. During 2017-18, local authorities collected £603 million in council tax arrears and wrote off £170 million of uncollectable council tax.
At 31 March 2018, the total amount of council tax still outstanding amounted to £3.0 billion. This is a cumulative figure and includes arrears that may stretch back to the introduction of council tax in 1993. This is an increase of £187 million over the figure for 2016-17.
The latest figures released by LGC analysis of Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government data shows that arrears of more than £3 billion were reported outstanding nationally as of 31 March, an increase of £186.7m on the £2.8bn reported for 2017.
The total amount required to meet court costs for debt collection also rose by 4.8%, from £292m in 2016-17 to £306m in 2017-18.
Responding to figures Don Peebles, head of policy and technical at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy, said: “An increase in council tax arrears speaks volumes about the financial strain felt both by the public and the public bodies that serve them. The “harp rise reflects the enormous financial pressures many local authorities are under.
It also adds additional burden on those households struggling to make ends meet, especially against a backdrop of rising inflation and an increasing cost of living. The councils that reported the largest percentage increase in arrears between 2016-17 and 2017-18 were Bromsgrove DC with 131%, North Hertfordshire DC (129%) and Copeland BC (76%). The LGC analysis did not find a correlation between total court costs for debt collection and the total amount of tax paid.
Thurrock Council reported the largest amount of court fees as a percentage of its outstanding arrears, spending £1.49m, or 61.5% of its total arrears. Despite this, the council reported a similar collection rate to many councils that spent much far less.
When looking at tax arrears per chargeable household, Liverpool City Council had the biggest proportional deficit with an average £472 owed in 2017-18. However, that had decreased by £25 per household from the previous year.
Ministry documents say the figures were submitted by councils themselves.