Residents ‘owed £1.9m in council tax overpayments’

Paisley-based MSP Neil Bibby has called on Renfrewshire Council to 'get the basics right'.

Residents ‘owed £1.9m in council tax overpayments’ iStock

Renfrewshire Council has been withholding £1.9m of council tax it owes to residents, new data has revealed.

A staggering survey – which was sent to 13 Scottish local authorities – has shown the overpayments are sitting in 16,448 closed accounts.

And the data indicates more than 10,000 of these accounts have a contact address attached to them.

The largest unrefunded overpayment is more than £9200.

Paisley-based MSP Neil Bibby has called on the council to “get the basics right” and return the cash to residents urgently.

But the council has insisted historic amounts are “common” and finance staff make refunds as “promptly as possible”.

Bibby said: “Overpayments should be returned to council tax payers as soon as possible.

“We are living through an unprecedented health and economic crisis and the council has to do everything it can to help people through it.

“The least the council can do is make sure it is collecting the correct amount of council tax only.

“Renfrewshire Council should be part of a concerted effort to secure an economic recovery for our area, but it’s got to get the basics right first.”

The council said some of the reasons historic overpayments can sit in closed accounts include if a person has moved home and their new address cannot be traced, or a change in circumstances.

Finance bosses insisted there are simple ways for residents to track their payments and they have been supporting those facing money problems.

The total amount sitting in Renfrewshire closed accounts is £1,913,583.40, according to the data.

Across the 13 local authorities surveyed – which account for more than half of the country’s population – there were more than 230,000 overpaid closed council tax accounts with a value of more than £45m.

A council tax campaigner said: “It would be shameful enough if this was a private company we were talking about, but these are accountable public bodies, placed to serve the people of Scotland, and instead are in effect stealing from them.

“It is morally repugnant.”

A Renfrewshire Council spokesman said: “Historic amounts are common across local authorities and in Renfrewshire are equivalent in closed accounts to 0.09% of all our council tax collected since 1993.

“They often result from an account holder moving home and their new address cannot be traced or from a change in household circumstances.

“We run regular checks to ensure our information is up-to-date and make refunds as promptly as possible, in this financial year making 1550 refunds to date.

“MyAccount allows Renfrewshire residents to track and monitor their accounts closely, and throughout the pandemic we have been providing further targeted support to help people facing additional financial pressure, including council tax reduction.”

By local democracy reporter Steph Brawn

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