Bailiffs to chase pounds 82m poll tax arrears

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The Independent Online
THE COUNCIL with the highest poll tax arrears in England has hired a firm of bailiffs to call on debtors to persuade them to pay up, writes Haydn Price.

Birmingham city council, owed pounds 82m by 40,000 residents, is offering the bailiffs commission on successful collections.

Roger Burton, the city treasurer, said John Crilley and Son would be paid a set fee but 'earn their corn by recovering unpaid charges'.

The council has set aside more than pounds 240,000 to cover the cost of collection, but the commission element has angered poll tax protesters, who fear it will encourage collectors to use aggressive or heavy-handed tactics.

But David Hunter, a director of Crilley, said: 'There will be no heavy-handedness. We have to adhere to both the law and the council's own guidelines.'

Mr Burton said: 'One way or another the arrears will be recovered, either from those who are refusing to pay or by being added to the bills of those who are already paying.'

Reg Hales, leader of the city's Conservative group, described the latter prospect as a 'disgrace'. He said: 'It's wrong that decent, law-abiding citizens should have to pay the debts of those who break the law.'

He attacked the Labour council leaders for their previous lack of 'political will to collect the charge', adding: 'Using the bailiffs is like closing the gate after the horse has bolted.'

Sir Richard Knowles, Labour leader of the council, said: ' We must balance the books.'