THE amount of unpaid council tax in Swindon has risen in the past year, following changes in the amount of support given to unemployed residents.

At the end of May, there was a total of £2.8m not paid, compared with £2.2m in the previous year, which later dropped to £1.4m after debts were paid later in the year.

There has also been a drop of 0.5 per cent in the collection rate, the first reduction for more than five years.

Critics have said a reason for this is a change in policy which meant those of working age had a 20 per cent reduction in the support they received for council tax following cuts in Government funding.

Council leaders have said while they understand the effect the change has had, the overall impact has not been as great as they first believed and much of the figure will be recuperated over the next 12 months.

Martin Wicks, secretary of the Swindon Tenants’ Campaign Group, said: “When people are on a tight income the smallest changes can make a big difference.

“I have not had people come to me directly with the problem but these figures show clearly that there is a problem.

“There are a number of councils who have fought against the 20 per cent change so it is disappointing to see it here.”

Leader of the Labour Group, Coun Jim Grant, said: “Many of the people affected by the council tax benefit changes are in low-paid work or suffer from a disability.

“They simply do not have the money to pay council tax on top of their other bills and that was why they were on full council tax benefit in the first place.

“Yet again it seems the Govern-ment has delivered an ill-thought policy to pay for the deficit by trying to take money from the vulnerable and poor when it should be the bankers they are targeting.

“My real worry is that the council has a duty to collect this money off our vulnerable residents and that could lead to bailiff action.”

Coun Russell Holland (Con, St Margaret and South Marston), the cabinet member for finance, said: “When the changes came into effect we expected there to be an increase in the number of people falling behind.

“We fully understand the plight of everyone who is struggling but the reality is the effect has not been as dramatic as we would have expected. The drop in collection rate has only been 0.5 per cent which is not as dramatic as we would first have thought.

“The last thing we want to see are bailiffs coming around to people who are in trouble, so my message to people is if they are having difficulties to contact the council straight away so we can try and come up with a solution.”

Anyone facing council tax problems can call 0345 3022316.