12:12pm Thursday 20th March 2014
By Tom Edwards
A WAR of words has broken out over Worcester's improving council tax write-offs - amid claims politicians should not be taking credit for it.
Worcester's Conservative group says rapidly falling figures for writing off unpaid debt is down to the efforts of a private company, rather than anything the city council has done.
As your Worcester News revealed two weeks ago, the amount of council tax and business rates written-off has plunged 43 per cent in a year.
The remarkable turnaround came after a strategy was launched to give people who owe money more time to hand it over.
But Councillor Marc Bayliss, deputy leader of the Tory group, says the credit should go to Civica, which handles financial transactions for the council.
The company has a contract to manage revenue and benefits across south Worcestershire.
Speaking during a budget scrutiny meeting, he said: "I'd be delighted to know what the council has actually done to contribute to this.
"We know Civica deal with this, so maybe we're trying to take credit for something our contractors have done."
The figures show £206,000 was written off in the first nine months of the current financial year, compared to a whopping £363,000 during the same period in 2012.
Two weeks ago Labour Councillor Richard Boorn, the cabinet member for finance, hailed the data and said it was something he had targeted for improvement.
After the criticism from Cllr Bayliss, he said the council was right to take some credit.
"If you're suggesting we just sat there, nothing could be further from the truth," he said.
"We have got involved, and decided as part of the strategy to work with people rather than let the debt build up.
"We're quite within our rights to take some credit - I'm sure if it was the other way around and the figures got worse we'd be criticised for it."
The council had previously come under fire for writing off more than £1 million in unpaid taxes in just two years.
A new report on the debts, which compares April-December 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, shows how the individual write-off cases have also plunged from 240 to 189.
Reasons for people not paying council tax can vary, but it can include residents moving away, householders dying, and those who refuse to pay, who are liable to be prosecuted.
Although the exact reasons for each write-off is never made public, most business write-offs are down to the firms going bust.
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