THE number of households in Colchester being pursued by bailiffs for not paying council tax has rocketed since the Government’s benefits reforms were introduced.

A Freedom of Information Act request shows Colchester Council instructed bailiffs 5,939 times in 2013/14.

The figure was up 30 per cent on the previous year’s figure of 4,515.

Colchester Council dealt with about 10,000 arrears cases per year, between 2008 and 2013, but it jumped to 13,277 cases in 2013/14.

The total taken to court was 5,524, up 33 per cent from 3,686.

Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell said it was too early to blame benefit changes, introduced in April last year, on the dramatic rise in cases.

Sir Bob said: “If people are finding it difficult to pay, it is cause for concern, but I amnot sure two plus two necessarily equals four.

“There will be those finding it difficult, but there are also those who are not paying for a variety of different reasons."

Paul Smith, Colchester councillor for business and resources, said new Government rules meant about 12,000 households previously not paying council tax would have to start paying.

He said: “We appreciated there was likely to be an increase in the number of people unable to pay and we took steps to try to help those people. We really want to try to separate those who can’t pay from those who won’t pay.

“If you choose not to pay, we will rigorously enforce the procedures and I make no apology for that. But if you have no money to pay, we interrupt proceedings early and say there is no point pursuing them.”

Total arrears for 2013/14 year were more than £2.5million.

Mr Smith said collection rates were actually better than originally budgeted for.

Council tax benefit was abolished on April 1 last year, with each local council being required to replace it with their own scheme.