Millions of pounds is being lost in unpaid council tax across Gloucestershire as bailiffs struggle to recover the lost cash to help maintain vital services.
Council tax makes up around a quarter of local government revenue and contributes to parking services, essential road maintenance, bin collections, the police and fire services.
Since 2009, local councils have been underpaid by more than £6 million, with Gloucestershire County Council receiving less as a result for its annual spending budget.
A bailiff, who works on behalf of councils collecting unpaid fees, said some people are choosing not to pay.
He said: “One of the councils that I work with has one of the highest collection rates in the country and works incredibly hard to recover outstanding debts.
“Generally, people are choosing not to pay their council tax. I visit some homes and they say they can’t afford to pay their council tax, but their recycling boxes are full, they smoke and they usually have a car on their drive.
“I went to one house and the man there had a 52 inch plasma TV on in the front room, and a 43 inch television in the kitchen, both on the same channel, both on cable.
“It is not unusual to go to a nice house and there are two cars parked outside, but they claim they cannot afford to pay. It is frustrating.
“There are genuine cases out there, but there are also cases where people are on a single person’s discount and they are cohabiting.
“For it to get to the stage of a bailiff to get involved, it is a last resort. There are genuine cases. Some have mental health problems, others are struggling to manage their lives. In my experience, councils will do everything in their power to help people.
“There are certain people who move on a regular basis to avoid paying, or who know they are about to move so stop paying their council tax. There are people out there with criminal intent. These people are cheating society, everyone else has to pay, why not them?”
Stroud District Council has collected £266.9 million over the last four years, but had to chase £3.1 million in outstanding debt, recovering all but £655,200. Tewkesbury Borough Council has £1.3 million in outstanding tax for the same period. Council tax in Stroud was frozen for the fourth straight year this week.
In Gloucester, £2.27 million is owed and £582,770 has gone unpaid in the Forest of Dean. Cheltenham has an outstanding balance of £941,399 for the last four years. Cotswold District Council said just one per cent of its council tax remained unpaid since 2009.
A spokesman for Stroud District Council said: “It is important we collect as much of the council tax due as possible.
“We take this very seriously as it funds the services we provide to our residents.
"When people are in difficulty, we work out payment plans to help them, but for those who refuse to pay we take a harder line.
“This approach means that we ultimately end up collecting pretty much all of the tax that is due.”
Cheltenham Borough Councillor, John Rawson, cabinet member for finance, said: “Cheltenham takes a very robust attitude to pursuing council tax debts.
"We don't stop chasing debts at the end of the financial year but go on following them up.
"So by the end, we generally achieve collection rates of over 99 per cent.”