COUNCIL tax arrears in Hounslow are the fourth highest in the country, according to new statistics.
An average of £325 is owed per household in the borough, government figures published last week reveal, more than anywhere except Liverpool, Slough and Hackney.
But Hounslow Council this week insisted it was raising its game, with the 2011/12 collection rate of 97.4 per cent the eight best in London and last year's on course to be a record 97.7 per cent, according to latest calculations.
A council spokesman pointed out that unlike some councils it did not write off historic debts, which can date back as far as 1993, and last year collected £4.5 million of such money.
He said it was using all legal means available to recover unpaid council tax, with one offender sent to prison last year for refusing to pay a historic debt.
"We know that some people have financial difficulties, and if they are unable to pay their council tax they should contact us as soon as possible to see what support we can offer," he added.
Nationally, council tax arrears stand at £2.36 billion, or £102 per household.
The figures were published last Tuesday (April 23) by MP Brandon Lewis, a junior minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government, in response to a question by Conservative MP Fiona Bruce.
They were immediately leapt upon by MP Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, who pointed out that nine out of the ten worst-performing councils were Labour-run.
"These new figures show how Labour councils are driving up council tax for law-abiding taxpayers by their neglect," he said.
However, Labour responded that, while councils were doing their best to improve collection rates, times were tough and the Government's decision to reduce council tax support for the poorest residents would only make life harder for struggling families.