A major union has claimed that Salford City Council is failing to collect millions of pounds of council tax due to staff shortages and alleges part of the local authority is “on it’s knees”. 

Public sector union, Unison, says Salford City Council has a backlog of thousands of council tax documents. The claims were first made in a report written in August this year and Unison has now published a follow-up document that said the situation remains unchanged.

This comes as the council prepares to make £16m cuts to services. Unison says that as many as 1,000 calls from the public are being missed as the customer service department struggles to cope.

Documents relating to housing benefits, business rates as well as council tax bills are facing long delays.

Salford City Council blamed central government cuts for the problems and is developing new online services to address the issue.

Unison has accepted austerity has had a major impact on town hall services.

However it says that due to a lack of assessors businesses are not receiving their bills until as much as a year later. Salford City Council’s guidelines prevent the council from collecting money if bills are not sent out within the specified time.

The Unison report also claims newly built property is not being registered and therefore the council is not receiving tax from them.

The initial report from Unison about Salford City Council, titled “Under staffing in customer and support services”, calls the council tax collection issue a ‘crisis’. The following is an extract from that report:

“This in turn has led to staff constantly feeling unable to cope with the level of demand and has had a demoralising effect of staff. Many have suffered from increasing levels of stress and anxiety. Staff have pride in their work but they also recognise that the service to quote them is “on its knees”!”

Yesterday Unison treasurer Ameen Hadi said:

“They just do not have enough staff, they’re off loading work to a private contractor which is causing a backlog….to be fair to them they have had their budget cut by the government, and that it Tory austerity, which we’re against. The customer service department has lost half the staff in the past eight years, and they wonder why they are not coping. And now they want to cut even more jobs? If you have a backlog of work do you hire more staff or cut more staff?

“Unison does not believe the councils figure of saving 1.8m by next year, because they are not investing enough or in the right places. All the investment in Salford Quays, how does that help the ordinary person in Salford?”

When asked how Salford Council has responded, Mr Hadi replied: “They haven’t. They say ‘We don’t agree with you, we’re not changing’.”

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Unison’s latest report says:

“This is probably the greatest area of contention between union members and the
consultation report. All areas of the service are under considerable pressure and perform
badly in comparison to other local authorities. This is not a reflection on staff’s skills abilities
and commitment but on poor corporate leadership with considerable understaffing.”

The union has expressed disappointment with the councils’ approach to the customer service redesign.

“The proposals put forward by management will not alter the position of
Salford as one of the worst performing in the UK. We can only restate that this is not due to
the lack of commitment from the staff but a lack of resources and vision by senior
managers.”

Unison has issued recommendations to the council. Firstly, to increase the size of their inspection service to boost income from council tax. Secondly, to deal with customers as quickly as possible instead of letting “hundreds and occasionally over a 1000 calls to be abandoned each day.”

Councillor Bill Hinds, lead member for finance and support services for Salford City Council, said: “Salford City Council has lost 54% of its government funding since 2010 and has to manage that alongside rising demand and increasing costs – it was time to look at the way we provide customer services.

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“We are redesigning our customer, council and business rates collection services for the digital age so customers can use services at times and in places that suit them. Our new scan stations allow residents to scan and submit documents themselves and have already been used 55,000 times in the first few months.

“There is a role for all our existing employees in the new service and temporary roles will be made permanent which brings stability. There will also be training and development opportunities and new apprenticeships.

“The council budget will also benefit from increased business rates and council tax collection which are projected to be £1.8 million in 2019/20.”

The report accuses the council of trying to cover up the severity of the backlog saying: ‘[staff] are often told to prioritise new claims so the true nature of the backlog is obscured.’

There are also concerns about refund requests of which there are over 150 backlogged, some dating back to March 2017. The Unison report says: ‘Refund request dating back to 16/03/17. Not processed and credit carried over to the following year, instead of refund going back to the charge payer.’

The latest Unison report can be accessed here.

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