MORE than 3,500 council tax dodgers in Worcester have been slapped with court summons - a shock 48 per cent rise in just four years.
Your Worcester News can exclusively reveal how over the last year 3,505 people have been sent letters instructing magistrates to tackle their non-payments after the city council got so fed up about their antics.
The tally has surged a staggering 48 per cent since 2010 - with frustrated council chiefs saying too many people are avoiding their responsibilities.
The shock findings have led to Worcester MP Robin Walker questioning whether "council tax is affordable" for many people and making a plea for the bill to be frozen next year.
The staggering tally of court summons over the last year led to £250,000 being clawed back on behalf of taxpayers and 2,995 liability orders from magistrates - meaning the culprits must pay it all back plus costs or risk being jailed.
The others avoided liability orders by settling their debts or agreeing repayment plans before they had to answer the courts.
Back in 2010/11 just 2,366 Worcester people were slapped with court summons, leading to concern many people on low incomes are struggling to pay.
Councillor Chris Mitchell, cabinet member for finance at the city council, said: "The data shows some people are either unable or unwilling to pay, and I know in some cases it will be people who decide, for whatever reason to prioritise other things - I don't believe all 3,500 can't pay.
"My message to those who find it difficult to pay is 'come and talk to us'.
"Council tax is vital revenue for the city and it's beholden on everyone to do their bit."
Mr Walker said: "I am quite concerned about these figures - it's not an optional tax, we all have to pay it and it does show how important it is to keep rates down.
"I wonder just how bad the figures would have been if it had not been frozen for so many years, maybe there's a lesson in that.
"There's a real cost to chasing all these non payers too."
In February the old Labour administration put council tax up nearly two per cent, but the new Tory leadership is aiming to freeze it in 2015.
The city council has urged people who struggle to pay to contact them "as early as possible" on 0300 333 9942.
Lesley Meagher, director of resources, said: "I'd urge anyone who is finding it difficult to pay their council tax to contact us as early as possible so we can discuss their situation and agree a realistic payment plan."
The council was unable to reveal how much the average debt was, saying the sums constantly change.
The sums relate to the 2013/14 financial year which closed at the end of March, when all but 2.6 per cent of council tax was left unpaid, leaving a gap of £1.1 million.
The council say some of that debt will not end up requiring a court summons, and that some of the 3,505 summonses in 2013/14 related to outstanding amounts from previous years.