COUNCIL tax dodgers in Swindon owe a massive £8m in unpaid bills, and a new league table has been released to name and shame the worst areas.

Despite the council’s collection rate of 98 per cent there are still over 15,000 court orders outstanding around the town.

In an effort to root out the cause of the problem the figures have now been broken down into wards, and produced some surprising results.

Coun Nick Martin, outgoing Swindon cabinet member for resources, said that on the whole the figures showed a link between bad debt and areas where large numbers of people were claiming benefits.

But he admitted that there were anomalies: “We have to look more carefully at these figures because for example, Abbey Meads is not one of the places with a lot of benefit claimants”, he said.

Abbey Meads comes in at fifth in the league of council tax dodgers – with over £572,000 owed from 904 court orders. The worst area is Central ward, which is £688,000 in the red with 1,390 court orders. Gorse Hill & Pinehurst, Eastcott and Parks are close behind, each owing in excess of £600,000.

The most punctual payers evidently live in Ridgeway ward, where just under £44,000 is outstanding from 71 court orders.

Coun Martin explained that over the past few years the council’s bad debt has reduced from £14m to £8m but as belts are tightened around the borough, every penny counts.

He said: “In the past few years we have been able to put more and more back in through collecting bad debt and that has benefited us in a number of budgets.

“We are very keen to reduce the debt as far as possible, but there does come a time when you do have to write it off and if we are still chasing debt that goes back to the mid-90s then we have to think carefully about whether that is wasted effort or not.

“The idea of breaking it down into wards is to help us identify areas that may have problems and see what we can do to help.”

Council officers are trying to contact customers who may have difficulty paying paying their bills, so help can be given.

Any residents on low income, who has lost their job recently or for other reason finds it hard to pay their council tax bill can call the benefits hotline on 0845 850 0962.