SOUTH Lakeland District Council has today agreed to write off over £36,000 in unpaid council tax debts.

It brings the total of unpaid council tax written off during this financial year to just over £110,000.

Making the decision today at a meeting of the Lib Dem-run Cabinet, Coun Sue Sanderson said SLDC has one of the best collection rates for council tax in the whole of Cumbria.

Coun Sanderson, who represents Staveley-in-Cartmel for the Lib Dems, told the chamber: “The debts are considered to be irrecoverable. We make every endeavour to get money owed to the council. A huge deal of effort goes into getting the money.

“The council collects £66 million every year and it’s collection rate is over 99 per cent each year.”

“Write offs show we have never exceeded 0.7 per cent (in uncollected council tax). In terms of district councils in Cumbria, we are one of the top of the list. It’s ourselves and Eden. And out of 15 councils, we are fifth out of 15 for collections on March 2013.”

She added: “The main reason we write off is because people have absconded and can’t be traced. In the case of them appearing again, we would purse the debt. I think we do tremendously well as a council.”

Coun John Holmes, for the opposition Conservatives in the Lyth Valley, said: “We collect council tax for the county council and SLDC’s proportion of the council tax is very small.”

But Allithwaite councillor Andrew Gardiner for the Tories, had concerns that the debts dated back years. “These debts have accrued over several years,” said Coun Gardiner.

“That’s my concern. I understand that people have debts, my concern is that these are over four of five years.

But SLDC’s revenues and benefits manager, Alan Raven, told him: “(That’s because) we never want to give up trying. We pursue all debts as far as we can and for as long as we can. It’s only ever an absolutely last resort that we come to you and ask you to write them off.”

Councillors were told that the authority uses bailiffs and magistrates’ courts among its techniques to claw back unpaid council tax.

Deputy leader Janet Willis, who represents Mid Furness for the Lib Dems, said: “It’s a very small amount and the majority of residents of South Lakeland pay their council tax and pay it on time. We do everything we can to recover this and I’d personally like to thank the residents of South Lakeland who do pay their council tax.”

Mr Raven, for SLDC, added in a statement: “The total write offs in any one year do not exceed 0.3%, but it is inevitable that in a small number of cases it is not possible to recover the debt despite taking action through the magistrates court, involving bailiffs or applying for attachment of earnings or benefits.

"In the most vulnerable cases the Council are always willing to enter into long-term payment arrangements rather than writing off a debt.’’