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Tax blitz defended.

Byline: Michelle Ruane

A council has declared war on debtors.

Redcar and Cleveland Council, which is chasing a pounds 4.5m council tax debt, sends out letters each year to those owing cash.

This year, 13,000 letters have been sent through a new software system, which enables large numbers of letters to be sent at the same time. Previously, letters were sent in batches.

Demands range from pounds 5 to pounds 3,000, with some of the arrears amounting from several years of non-payment. The letters, which landed on doormats this week, warn those who still fail to pay within 14 days they could face a visit by bailiffs.

Chris Foggin, the council's revenue group leader, defended the stance taken by the authority, adding pounds 5 is the minimum figure they use to draw the line on debt.

He said: "It is still money owed to us. We are doing this for the benefit of everyone in Redcar and Cleveland."

He said larger figures - amounting to as much as pounds 3,000 - could relate to the total amount owed on several properties owned by one person, or could be an outstanding amount still owed by a debtor.

But Mr Foggin stressed regular payers who keep up to date with their council tax by direct debit or standing order would not be affected, unless they had previous arrears.

Councillor Glyn Nightingale, cabinet member for corporate resources, said: "Sending out these letters is an annual exercise, but this year we are determined to warn people we mean business.

"I'm sure there will be hundreds of debtors who will be feeling sorry for themselves, but it's about time they faced up to their res ponsibilities like the vast majority of residents."

The council's call centre - which braced itself for an increase in calls once letters were sent - saw inquiries rise by three times the usual number to 4,000 on Monday alone. A spokesman said most calls were to admit liability, with many now opting to pay by direct debit.

* What do you think? Write to Letters to the Editor, Evening Gazette, Borough Road, Middlesbrough, TS1 3AZ, fax 01642 232014 or e-mail editor@eveninggazette.co.uk
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Title Annotation:News Local
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Sep 10, 2005
Words:364
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