CASH-STRAPPED officials have been criticised after writing off an £11,500 council tax debt that was racked up over 11 years.

Critics said it was “beyond belief” that Oxford City Council let the debt – stretching from 1996 to 2007 – go on for so long.

Bosses got court orders to send in bailiffs and draw up agreements to get the cash back.

It ruled out seeking a prison term and only began bankruptcy proceedings in April 2006, 10 years after the person – who has not named – first defaulted.

But it last year wrote off the entire £11,550.29 owed when it became clear there was “no prospect” of getting the cash.

This comes as residents prepare to receive new bills and bail-outs for unpaid bills are soaring.

Green Party group leader David Williams said: “I have been a councillor for 26 years and I have never known a case like that. It is beyond belief.

“It is an incredible amount of time before they got to grips with it.

“It is ridiculous and an insult to the people who get letters a few months after they have not paid their council tax.”

“They are pursuing them but this person has got away with it.”

Since April 2010, the city council has won almost 9,000 court orders to force families to pay up.

It then has options to get the cash, including taking funds from wages or benefits, bailiffs, proceeds from home sales and prison.

In this case, the council said the resident did not have an income, was not drawing benefits and money from selling the property was “not an option”. It would not explain why.

“Sporadic” payments were made but court orders had to be sought most years.

Spokesman Louisa Dean said the option of prison was uncommon, adding: “In this particular case it wasn’t appropriate. I can’t go into details. Normal recovery processes and procedures were followed.”

The council refused to identify the property or persons concerned, citing “data protection” reasons.

It comes as figures obtained by the Oxford Mail show taxpayers are increasingly having to bail out city families who do not pay up.

The cost of write-offs went from £228,000 in 2009/10 to £680,000 in 2010/11 and £643,000 so far this financial year. City council deputy leader Ed Turner blamed the recession, and said: “More people are going bankrupt.”

He said debts are still pursued after being written off and about 98 per cent of cash owed is collected.

TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign director Emma Boon said the 11-year debt was “unfair on those who pay their fair share and means there is less cash for frontline services”.

Cherwell District Council also wrote off £11,651.69 over a 1999 to 2010 debt but refused to reveal any details. Its write-off costs have risen from £176,843 in 2009/10 to £207,527 so far this financial year.

Finance boss Ken Atack said: “It is an indication of bad times.”

But Vale of White Horse District Council’s write-off costs fell from £61,378 in 2009/10 to £57,150 in 2010/11, to £14,588 so far this financial year. Spokesman Martin Crabtree debtors were “vigorously pursued”.

South Oxfordshire District Council saw write-offs go from £82,706 in 2009/10 to £30,024 and £50,562 in following years.

West Oxfordshire District Council write-offs were £51,945, £50,444 and £47,756 during this time.