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Complainant Name:
Cllr Arnold Woolley

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Liverpool Daily Post (Welsh edition)

Complaint:

Cllr Arnold Woolley complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper had published a series of articles relating to Flintshire County Council's problems with the payment of council workers' wages and its difficulties in collecting council tax which, in his view, were misleading to readers.

Resolution:

The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the publication of the following letter from the complainant:

On May 20 2011, the Daily Post reported what it set out on the front page, as a "Scandal" concerning uncollected council tax monies, affecting Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham local authorities. Following a request made under the Freedom of Information Act for information relating to council tax arrears, the news article correctly reported that Flintshire had, at the time of the report, total outstanding balances of 2.5m from the previous five financial years, of which 1.5m related to 2010-11.

However, contrary to what the text of the article alleged, there is neither a scandal, nor any passing off, onto the shoulders of others, any financial burden of the quantity alleged. The real truth and fact is that Flintshire County Council has an excellent track record in recovering unpaid council tax, both 'in year' and in the longer term. The council's efforts to recover residual balances are a continuing and ongoing activity which will eventually result in the council recovering around 99.4% of council taxes due in any financial year. For example, in 2010-11, of the 58.6m that was due in council tax, 57.1m (or 97.5%) has been successfully collected 'in-year' - the important message here is that the vast majority of the residual 1.5m will still be collected over time, the bulk of this will be recovered in 2011-12.

We anticipate that only 0.6% of the year's charge will eventually be written off, which in monetary terms is approximately 350,000. Debts will only be considered for write-off after all recovery options have been taken. Typically, write-offs only occur after taxpayers are declared bankrupt, have left the county without providing any contact address, or have passed away leaving no estate.

Putting things into context and using the previous financial year as an example, collecting 99.4% will eventually result in the council collecting 58.2m of the 58.6m that was originally due. Simply quoting the arrears position at any given point in time is therefore meaningless and more importantly, misleading, without providing further explanation and context. Again, using a further example to illustrate the true position, looking further back to 2006-07, even though 1.2m was officially declared as outstanding at the end of the 2006-07 financial year, the total unpaid council tax for 2006-07 year has now reduced to 89k. Residents need to know that, far from there being any kind of scandal, as alleged on May 20, the activity of the collection of council tax in Flintshire has been and remains a very creditable success story, for which all staff involved, and there are many, need to be applauded.

Cllr Arnold Woolley
Leader, Flintshire County Council

Date Published: 22/07/2011



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