Recently, the Shadow Communities Secretary, Hilary Benn, cited Labour research alleging that from 2012 to 2013, the number of households in Council Tax arrears had risen by 45 per cent in one year, with 700,000 more households in tax arrears due to ‘cuts’ in benefits.
That would be a worrying trend if it were true. But it isn't. The latest official statistics show that in-year council tax arrears have fallen from 31 March 2012 to 31 March 2013.
The total amount of collectable council tax was £22.69 billion in 2011-12 and £22.98 billion in 2012-13. Council tax collection rates have risen by 0.1% to 97.4% from 31 March 2012 to 31 March 2013. Total Council Tax arrears (in respect of the current year) were £689 million in March 2012 and £691 million in March 2013. As a percentage of the total amount of be collected, this represents a slight fall in arrears (from 3.04% to 3.01%).
The ten councils with the worst collection rates in the country are all Labour – Salford (the very worst), followed by Manchester, Newham, Hackney, Nottingham, Lewisham, Greenwich, Southwark, Barking and Dagenham and Lambeth.
If Mr Benn is concerned about reducing Council Tax arrears perhaps he should focus his efforts on persuading his Labour colleagues running these local authorities to buck up.
I don't think Mr Benn is a dishonest man. It seems to me that there has been a genuine error – a muddled reading perhaps of incomplete Freedom of Information responses. However, having made the false claim that arrears had increased, Labour then suggested this was due to the new system of Council Tax support – but this only came in this year. The latest figures available are for 2012/13.
Mr Benn should admit he has got it wrong.