TAX dodgers owe Castle Point Council more than £2million in unpaid council tax over the last five years.

Figures obtained by the Echo through a Freedom of Information request show the council is chasing millions in tax debts dating back to 2008.

In this financial year alone the authority is taking enforcement action to try to claw back some of the £957,327 that has built up since April 2013.

The figures also show in the last five years a whopping 22,283 people have been summonsed to court for owing council tax.

Castle Point Council says it is working hard to take action to recover both new and old debts.

A spokesman from the council said: “Enforcement action continues against those taxpayers in arrears by the use of bailiffs, attachment to earnings, attachment to benefit, charging orders, bankruptcy, committal to prison.

“The council will use the full range of legal powers available to collect outstanding council tax and will continue to do so for older debts.”

The highest amount owed by one person was more than £14,700 which was the result of fraudulent benefit claims.

The spokeswoman said: “The council has worked hard to maintain collection rates while issuing fewer summonses by offering customers a far greater choice of payment methods particularly by direct debit with weekly, fortnightly and four-weekly options becoming popular.

“The council also works closely with debt advice agencies such as Step Change and the Citizens Advice Bureau.”

Despite this, the council still maintains a 98 per cent collection rate from the borough’s 89,000 residents.

Councils across south Essex face similar problems. In 2012 Southend Council was owed £1.9million in unpaid tax from the six years before that and in 2009/10 Basildon Council took more than 5,000 to court for nonpayment.

Jeffrey Stanley, deputy leader of the council, said: “We are the collection authority for Essex County Council, Essex Police and the fire authority as well so while these numbers may look big most of those arrears belong to someone else.

“We take this responsibility very seriously and use our powers as strongly as we can to ensure everyone pays their fair share as no one should expect to receive a bill and not to have to pay it.

“We remain one of the best collection authorities in the country with a 98 per cent collection rate.”

Dave Blackwell, leader of the Canvey Independent Party, said: “I think these figures are a reflection of the times.

“The council gives ample opportunity to people who are suffering hardship to get help and advice to manage their payments.

“There is no excuse for not paying council tax, we all have to do it, and we need to do more to get that money back because that money pays for our services.”