OVER £18 million of unpaid council tax has been written off by Bradford Council in the last five years.

And in the same time period 96 people in the district were sent to prison for not paying their tax.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that in the last financial year alone, the Council wrote off £6.47m of unpaid tax - just over 48,000 accounts.

Since 2013, Bradford had by far the highest total of written off tax of the West Yorkshire local authorities with £18,721,873 that the council has accepted it is unlikely to ever be able to collect.

This is followed by Kirklees, which wrote off £12,630,000.

Calderdale wrote off £6,542,748, Leeds £4,100,000 and Wakefield £3,291,932.

The request also reveals the lengths councils go to recover unpaid tax.

In the five year period (2013/14 to 2017/18) covered by the FOI, Bradford Council sent out 259,366 court summons for unpaid tax, leading to 223,565 prosecutions.

In the past year, nine people were given custodial sentences for non-payment of council tax. That is down from 18 in 2016/17 and 28 in 2013/14.

Overall, 96 people from Bradford have served prison time in the past five years for not paying their council tax.

In Leeds, Kirklees and Wakefield, nobody was given a custodial sentence for not paying their Council Tax in the past five years.

In Calderdale - the only other authority in West Yorkshire were custodial sentences were handed out, only two people served prison time.

Bradford Council says that it has recently started to “challenge itself” over the number of people it takes to court, and that in recent years it has become “an absolute last resort.”

Council Tax is used to pay for services in the district, from bin collections to libraries and road maintenance.

Christians Against Poverty, a Bradford based charity that helps people in debt, has argued against aggressive techniques to recover unpaid Council Tax, saying local authorities were falling short in how they treat people in debt. Chief Executive Matt Barlow said: “The reality is, people on the receiving end can feel completely overwhelmed and unable to cope and our findings show they are not given sufficient avenues of understanding or support. Many have no idea why they owe what they owe and that’s both confusing and frightening.

“We’ve seen so much improvement in the private sector, the utilities companies too are making great strides in the way they treat people in debt. Local and national governments are put in place to serve the nation, and whilst they do a very good job in so many areas, their practices in debt collection fall a long way short.”

A Bradford Council spokesperson said: “Bradford is the fourth biggest local authority in the country when it comes to the number of properties in its boundaries so our numbers will be larger than most.

“The vast majority of council taxpayers in Bradford pay their council tax. And in an age when the Government is cutting all grants to local authorities every penny counts. So where people do not pay, then we have to pursue payment so that the council has enough funding to cover the cost of council services.

“Where people are genuinely in financial difficulty and let us know this, we will always support them by giving them information, guidance and advice.

“In spite of everyone’s efforts, inevitably there are a small number of Council Tax payers each year who refuse to pay. If people refuse then we pursue enforcement action in the form of applying to the Magistrates for action. This is not to seek punishment for non–payment, but to secure payment of the debt. However, there are a reducing number of these cases which reflects a commitment from the Council to challenge itself to only use this option as an absolute last resort.

“We write Council Tax off only when all other avenues for collecting the owed tax have been exhausted. Last year we committed resources to addressing this specifically hence the comparatively high levels of write-off that were approved.

“We are committed to supporting Council Tax Payers who have difficulty paying, but we are also mindful of the duty to pursue those who won’t pay not least to be fair to Council Tax payers who regularly pay in full and on time.”