Figures published this week show Croydon Council is the second-worst authority in England and the worst in London for collecting unpaid council tax.

A comparison analysis compiled by the public services union GMB shows Croydon is second in a league table of 351 English councils which have failed to collect a total of £589,538,530 for the 2004/05 financial year.

It is owed £9.2million and is beaten only by the city of Birmingham which has £11.8million uncollected. It also moved up from last year's second place to become the worst authority in London for collecting unpaid council tax.

Croydon Council defended its unfavourable positions, claiming the direct comparisons are unfair because they do not take the borough's size into account.

"That's the bit we're fundamentally unhappy with," said council leader Tony Newman. "They are not comparing like with like. We are one of the largest London boroughs with 340,000 residents. In terms of percentage we are halfway up or down the table in London."

This is the second year the GMB has compiled a comparison analysis of the unpaid council tax figures, originally published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

The organisation believes if this money was collected by councils it could be used to improve services or hold down the level of council tax.

Spokesman Steve Pryle said: "Croydon has overtaken Hackney as the worst in London. Last year Hackney was the worst but it has made improvements Croydon hasn't. It will be interesting to see how much of this money ends up being written off.

"We believe a major factor is the rise of private landlords, who are prevented by Inland Revenue laws from asking their tenants to pay council tax. We are calling on these laws to be changed."

Councillor Newman admitted there had been a problem with collecting council tax but said this was now resolved. He added: "We have brought the finance department that dealt with council tax back in-house, which was previously being run by the private sector.

"There were some problems about a year ago and we have addressed them. I am not complacent. There are further improvements that are on track."

London borough rankings for uncollected council taxes

2004/05 (£) / 2003/04 (£)

1 Croydon 9,214,000 / 8,081,000
2 Hackney 9,147,000 / 11,416,000
3 Barnet 7,102,000 / 6,097,000
4 Ealing 7,077,000 / 4,898,000
5 Lambeth 6,853,000 / 9,192,000
6 Waltham Forest 6,332,000 / 7,230,000
7 Camden 6,203,000 / 5,417,000
8 Brent 6,111,000 / 7,398,000
9 Islington 5,936,000 / 5,605,000
10 Haringey 5,111,000 / 4,947,000