Council write off ‘irrecoverable’ £150k poll tax debt

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IT ONLY lasted two years but led to widespread riots, the first public acknowledgement of Tommy Sheridan, and contributed to the downfall of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, writes Kenny Paterson.

Nearly 20 years on, Scottish Borders Council have followed the lead of other Scottish authorities and finally written off its outstanding poll tax debt, totalling almost £150,000.

Executive members backed the proposal from chief financial officer David Robertson, who also informed councillors that a further £1.02million of corporate debt had been written off during 2011, an increase on the 2010 figure of £542,000.

The poll tax sum due the council stands at £147,000. A total of 675 debtors in the Borders failed to pay the fees – which controversially charged every adult a single flat rate without taking into account income or property value.

Poll tax debtors in the region owed the council amounts ranging from 95p to £902, with SBC now deeming the money to be irrecoverable.

Deputy leader and executive member for finance, John Mitchell, admitted he was glad to see the back of poll tax, which was replaced by the current council tax system in 1993. He added: “As someone who helped abolish the poll tax by refusing to pay, I am delighted to see the back of this vile tax.”

However, Hawick councillor David Paterson claimed: “I am worried this is sending out the wrong message to people that they do not have to pay council tax – £902 is a lot of money not to pay.”

Council leader David Parker replied: “We have got a good track record of recovering debts, but in this case officers believe it is in our best interests to write off the debt.

“This particular debt is now 20 years old and we are unlikely to get it back.”

A freedom of information request in August revealed that 27 Scottish councils were due more than £320million of unpaid poll tax.

However, next year’s 20th anniversary of the abolition of the tax will, under Scot’s Law, automatically see any debt written off. Already several councils, such as Glasgow which is owed £125million, have stopped pursuing poll tax evaders.

SBC’s £1.02million debt write- off for 2011 includes council tax, non-domestic rates, sundry debtors and housing benefit overpayments.

Council tax debts deemed as irrecoverable dropped from £255,490 in 2010 to £172,991 last year.

Written off sundry debts, which include charges for services such as for rubbish collections for businesses, rose from £248,446 in 2010/11 to £826,568 in 2011/12.

But councillor Mitchell added: “Writing a debt off doesn’t mean we won’t get back some of the money owed.”