MIDDLESBROUGH Council spent thousands on private detectives to chase debtors, a Northern Echo investigation can reveal.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request show that the local authority has paid almost £17,000 to private investigators since 2010.

The council paid North-East companies Ray Bowes Investigations and Grosvenor Investigations and Security Services Limited to assist them with 56 investigations between 2010 and 2015.

By contrast, other authorities – including Stockton, Darlington, Redcar and Cleveland and Durham – claim they spent nothing on hiring private investigators in the same time period.

A spokesman for the authority described the £16,599 sum as a “fairly modest” amount and said private detective firms were used as a last resort.

He said: “The use of private investigators is restricted to a limited number of cases where all other avenues have been exhausted and where the recovery of the outstanding debts is considered to be in the public interest.

“As an authority we have a duty to safeguard public finances and a total expenditure in this area of less than £17,000 over six years is a fairly modest amount to help us achieve that goal.”

In response to the new figures, the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has called for a simplified tax system to help people cope with their debts.

Dia Chakravarty, political director at the TPA, said: "While councils need to ensure that people pay taxes, having to hire private detectives to chase debtors is hardly an effective solution.

“Our tax system needs to be drastically simpler so that everyone knows how much tax they owe and taxes need to remain low so that people can actually afford to pay them."