Chris Smith (Co-Founder and Director of the Centre for the New Midlands) explores the significant discrepancies in the manner in which the three West Midlands’ local authorities approach the collection of Council Tax arrears, which is becoming an increasingly challenging topic for taxpayers and local authorities alike.

(Please note that this report was produced prior to the COVID-19 lockdown).

Council Tax is a significant bill for all households across the country and particularly for those who are just about managing to make ends meet. 

There are various groups across society who receive discounts of their Council Tax bills or are exempt from the taxation all together, however there are also an estimated 2.2 million households who are behind on their council tax across England and there is more than £3 billion of outstanding council tax debt (Citizens Advice, 2018).

In a number of these cases, these households go on to find themselves trapped in a debt collection cycle consisting of court summons and bailiff enforcement as a consequence of central government providing local authorities with the guidance and powers to commence enforcement procedures.

Following on from a national Citizens’ Advice Freedom of Information request to all councils in England which posed a number of questions regarding the collection of Council Tax arrears, the Centre for the New Midlands has explored the picture across the West Midlands, specifically focussing on the metropolitan local authorities of Coventry City Council, Birmingham City Council and Wolverhampton City Council.  Here are some of the key statistics:

  • In 2018/19, Coventry City Council referred 19,047 Council Tax debts to Bailiffs for enforcement action- an increase of 60.1% from the 2013/14 figure of 11,896.  In this same period, Birmingham City Council and Wolverhampton City Council decreased their number of Council Tax debt referrals to Bailiffs, falling from 73,694 to 45,820 (-38.1%) and 7,051 to 6,285 (-10.9%) respectively.
  • Of the 235 Councils who responded to the FOI request, Coventry City Council had the 6th highest increase in the number of Council Tax Debts referred to Bailiffs for enforcement (7,151 debts). Birmingham City Council experienced the most significant reduction across the whole of England (28,144 debts).
  • In 2018/19, the total value of Council Tax debt referred to Bailiffs by Coventry City Council was £11.9 million – an increase of 82.5% from the 2013/14 figure of £6.5 million.  In this same period, Birmingham City Council reduced the total Council Tax debt it referred to Bailiffs by 23.4% (from £45.2 million in 2013/14 to £34.6 million).  Wolverhampton City Council experienced a slight increase of 8.5% in its Council Tax Debt referral to Bailiffs (from £4.3 million in 2013/14 to £4.7 million in 2018/19).
  • In 2013/14, Coventry City Council recovered 24.7% of the debt that it sent to Bailiffs for enforcement action (£1.62 million of £6.5 million). However, in FY 2018/19, it had recovered just 14.4% of the debt (£1.72 million of £11.9 million).  Despite an additional £5.4 million being referred to Bailiffs for enforcement action in 2018/19, Coventry City Council was only able to collect an additional £105k in Council Tax debt arrears.
  • In 2018/19, Wolverhampton City Council recovered 40.4% of the debt it sent to Bailiffs (£1.9 million of £4.7 million), which is a substantial increase on its 2013/14 performance in which it recovered 20.8% of its debts (£906k of £4.3 million).  (Birmingham City Council withheld the sums it recovered through Bailiff enforcement action).


The full report is available here – Sent-to-Coventry-Sent-to-Bailiffs-March-2020.pdf 

Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Chris Smith via email 

About Chris Smith:

Chris is the Co-Founder and Director of the Centre for the New Midlands.

For over 10 years, Chris worked within Higher Education’s fundraising and alumni engagement; beginning his career within the profession at Coventry University before joining the University of Westminster. Amongst his achievements, Chris co-founded the AlSadi Changing Lives Programme which has provided hundreds of UK students with fully funded volunteer programmes to Jordan, working with some of the nation’s finest third sector organisations.

Chris has previously worked within student recruitment; management information and strategic planning as well as working within the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate.  Chris is also a former Students’ Union President and has also previously worked for the Saga Group plc.  Chris has served as a member of the NSPCC Business Board in Coventry and Warwickshire and as a Trustee of the University of Westminster’s Students’ Union.


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