DEBTS of more than £14m were managed by Citizens Advice Barnsley advisors last year on behalf of people struggling to juggle spiralling commitments - including more than £640,000 in unpaid council tax.

The charity, which offers confidential advice to people on topics including benefits, housing, the law and financial matters, helped clients manage problem debt totalling £14,061,870.

While still being the main issue CAB delivers advice on, the number of council tax-related enquiries has actually fallen from the previous year, with 3,433 cases of debt involving council tax arrears across last year compared with 3,554 the previous year.

Nationally, Citizens Advice sees more than 80,000 clients a year for council tax-related issues, with an estimated 2.2m households behind on their payments according to the charity.

According to data compiled by the charity through a series of Freedom of Information requests sent to local councils, last year 31,803 households in Barnsley were in arrears for council tax payments - with a total of more than £6m referred to bailiffs, £2.05m of which was recovered.

In Text Promo Image

And while the number of households has dropped from 37,082 in the previous year, the amount recovered by bailiffs was lower across this period, at £1.8m.

Last week, the Chronicle revealed 12,000 households would receive a reduction in their council tax despite a rise overall of 3.9 per cent - and CAB chief executive Jo Clark said council tax debts were a ‘significant problem’ brought through the charity’s door.

“CAB and Barnsley Council will be working hard throughout the year to support people who are struggling to pay their council tax,” she added.

“Both CAB and the council have signed up to the ‘Citizens Advice Council Tax Collection Protocol’ which aims to prevent people struggling with bill payments from getting further into debt.

“We expect to be able to help even more people in the coming year due to a new local initiative which started this month whereby we have received funding from the council for a designated CAB adviser who will take direct referrals from the council to provide timely help and advice for people struggling to pay their council tax.

“This service is in addition to our other robust debt advice services which cover all debt solutions including bankruptcy and debt relief orders.”

While council tax payments are still the biggest debt-related issue facing clients, cases involving debt relief orders (DROs) - a type of insolvency which freezes certain kinds of debt before writing them off if circumstances don’t improve - saw the biggest rise from the previous year.

DROs, for individuals with relatively low-level debt who have few savings or spare income, cover debts such as credit cards, utility bills and business debts.

The service saw 2,249 cases for DROs last year, compared to 1,734 the year before - an increase of almost 30 per cent.

While most problems dealt with involved debt, there was a huge rise in clients seeking advice on Universal Credit with the number of cases more than doubling from 1,313 in 2018/19 to 2,740.

Overall, CAB helped clients claim more than £4.3m in benefits - with Jo adding the charity’s ‘Help to Claim’ service set up in April, which gives tailored support to Universal Credit claimants from application to their first payment, was the reason for the rise in cases.

Most cases involving benefits revolved around Personal Independence Payment (PIP) - announced as a replacement for Disability Living Allowance in 2013 - with a 40 per cent increase of 1,548 cases compared to 1,102 the previous year.