Blackburn with Darwen Council has failed to collect more than £7m in unpaid council tax over the last three years.

Data from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted to the council shows that since 2021, more than 33,500 people eligible to pay council tax across the borough have failed to do so, resulting in more than £2.5m per year uncollected by the local authority.

The council’s executive member for finance and governance, Vicky McGurk, said that uncollected income is “not lost”, but instead is viewed as “council debt” and will remain collectable through a range of methods, including “spreading payments over 12 months”, or “using regulated bailiffs as a last resort”.

However, leader of the opposition, Cllr John Slater said uncollected council tax will inevitably result in “bigger debts” and “higher rates of council tax for those living in the borough”.

Figures obtained via the FOI show that in 2021, 11,841 people/households failed to pay their council tax, amounting to £2,761,706.82.

In 2022, this figure dropped slightly to 10,643 eligible households failing to pay their council tax bill, amounting to £2,648,256.05.

The overall figures for the financial year 2023 were not available at the time of requesting the information, but to date, Blackburn with Darwen Council estimates that 11,050 people failed to pay their council tax last year, with that figure expected to be higher, equating to more than £2.5m owed to the local authority.

In 2023/24, the council said the number of chargeable dwellings in the borough was 36,292.84, despite there being around 61,000 homes in the area.

Cllr McGurk said: “Uncollected income at the financial year end is not lost - it is council tax debt that is owing and still remains collectable.

“The council continues to take action to collect outstanding debts where they are considered still collectable, whether the debt relates to current or previous financial years.

“When setting council tax, and as with most councils, the council assumes that it will not collect all of the council tax due in that year.

“This adjustment is known as the collection rate and for 2023/24 the assumption was that 96 per cent of the amount of council tax due in the year would be collected.

“The council's actual collection was 95.3 per cent so just 0.7 per cent lower than expected.

“Given the prolonged financial impact of the pandemic and the continuing cost of living crisis, collection of council tax is challenging, and we aim to be as understanding as possible to people’s financial situations.

“The council continues to collect outstanding debts regardless of what year they relate to.

“In 2020/21, £1.417m was received in relation to the previous years' debts; in 2021/22, the amount was £2.157m, in 2022/23 it was £1.842m and in 2023/24 it was £2.137m.

“On average, the collection rate for the last three years has increased to 97 per cent and is expected to increase further so that almost all of the council tax due is collected.

“Council tax debt is collected by the council by a range of methods, including spreading payments over 12 months, making payment arrangements with us, charging orders, and attachment to earnings, with the use of regulated bailiffs as a last resort.

“While the council may, in some cases, write off debts because it is uneconomical to pursue them, where new information comes to light, the debt will be written back on and activity to collect the debt will be reinstated.”

Leader of the Conservative Group in Blackburn with Darwen, Cllr John Slater said: “Every financial year we have been telling them this, and every time they say it’s not a problem, and every time the problem gets bigger.

“It will get to the stage where some of this debt will have to be written off, at the cost of the rate payer because the council hasn’t pursued it properly.

“The council can’t blame the cost-of-living crisis because the figures fluctuate so much.

"But this does not help the council taxpayers in this borough because the more that’s uncollected, the bigger the debt, and the more pressure there is on the budget, and then the higher the council tax rates go.

“And this is down to years and years of Labour incompetence.”