CHANGES to council tax rules have led to bailiffs being sent to 205 Colchester homes.

New benefits rules in April last year meant the majority of working age claimants now have to pay at least 20 per cent of their council tax.

The changes affected about 8,000 households in the borough which were asked to pay, on average, £169.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed 3,225 people found themselves in arrears at some point.

Of those affected, 40 per cent were receiving disability-related benefits and a further 40 per cent were single parents. Just 495 were employed.

The council subsequently sent out 1,500 summonses, followed by 1,235 liability orders, which it can do if the full amount is not paid within 14 days.

Of these cases, despite offers of help and a series of reminders, bailiffs were passed details of 205 residents who still owed cash.

Paul Smith, councillor responsible for resources, said anyone struggling to find the extra cash had been offered meetings with the council and places at debt clinics to help them sort their finances out.

But he added: “We are differentiating between those who can’t pay and those who won’t pay.

“I recognise the efforts many people have made to ensure they pay their council tax, which is why we will pursue those who can pay, but choose not to.”

Mr Smith said in the last year the number of council tax benefit claimants had dropped by 10 per cent, to about 12,000.

About 4,000 are pensioners, who will always get paid the full amount.

He said: “Bearing in mind many people weren’t paying anything at all and they’re being asked to pay 20 per cent, to get 90 per cent of people on council tax benefits not in arrears, is I think, a positive achievement.”

Rather than use bailiffs, the authority can also take deductions from benefits or salaries.

As a final resort it can apply for a bankruptcy committal or a charging order, which will see the sum owed paid when the property is sold.