The councils have two years to identify people eligible to pay the poll tax and put them on the register and can then chase unpaid bills for a further six years, so it will still be being collected into the next century.
But with the implementation of the council tax on Thursday, there are fears that some residents will think they can get away without paying poll tax.
The latest figures from the Department of the Environment show that for the first nine months of the tax year 1992-93, 76 per cent of the budgeted yield had been collected. That still left pounds 1.68bn to be collected.
The problems of collection are worst in London and some of the big cities, where there is a highly mobile population. The equivalent of seven in every ten adults in the capital have been summonsed for poll tax non- payment in the three years since the tax was introduced, the Association of London Authorities said yesterday.
Its survey reveals that 3.5 million summonses were issued for non-payment, followed up by 2.4 million liability orders. More than 5 million people in London were liable for the tax, but many will have received more than one summons or liability order.
Haringey in London has issued more summonses than any other council in the country. 'We have had block bookings in the magistrates' court week in, week out,' the council said. It has issued more than 272,000 summonses and 195,000 liability orders since April 1990. It has just over 150,000 people eligible to pay the tax. Fifteen people have been jailed, although only one served the full sentence. 'Sometimes they spend just one afternoon in Pentonville and someone comes up with the money,' the council said.
Newcastle council is still owed pounds 24m, which is 15 per cent of its budgeted yield. It has applied for 4,000 commitals to prison, but only five people have been jailed. Under the old rates system 98 to 99 per cent of money due was collected by Newcastle. For the poll tax it is running at less than 90 per cent.
Barnet council in north London has decided to use its finance officers to take over the role of the police and execute arrest warrants on poll tax defaulters. This was a mark of its determination, it said.
Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, yesterday admitted there were 'disadvantages' to the council tax system because varying regional house prices exaggerated differences in income. Speaking on BBC Television's Breakfast with Frost programme, he said: 'That was one of the disadvantages of the rating system, it is to some extent a disadvantage of any property tax . . . but overall the council tax is becoming generally acceptable.'Reuse content