Council writes off £70,000 debts
By Liz HearnshawA COUNCILLOR has pledged to examine the practices of his authority's finance department after almost £70,000 of council tax and business rate debts were written-off - at a cost to the taxpayer.
By Liz Hearnshaw
A COUNCILLOR has pledged to examine the practices of his authority's finance department after almost £70,000 of council tax and business rate debts were written-off - at a cost to the taxpayer.
David Nettleton, whose pre-election promise was to safeguard the public purse, will spend time with officials at St Edmundsbury Borough Council following the cabinet's decision to cut its losses last week.
Mr Nettleton, who has previously worked as a finance officer in a local authority, hopes procedures for chasing debts can be speeded up to offer more chance of recovery.
“I had concerns about some of the debts and how the council got into such a position it had to write them off. I was not entirely happy that everything had been done as well as it ought to have been,” he said.
“The council does collect over 97% of all debts, but does have problems with bankruptcy and people who just disappear while owing money. Debts are also quite vigorously pursued through the courts to get the money.
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“But the question is how quickly we are sending out reminders and realising there is a problem. The faster things get moving the better, as debts get stale and people can develop the attitude that they do not have to pay.
“Obviously these write-offs have an effect on taxpayers and amount to quite a lot of money, which is why I have been keen to pursue this.”
Mr Nettleton suggested pre-payment could ensure money for jobs such as cesspool emptying and wasp nest clearance were received in advance.
But David Addy, the council's finance director, said many of the debts written off last week were historic, relating to the five-year period since 1998.
“The council tax debts nearly all relate to people who have disappeared. We use bailiffs and other legal methods to try and pursue these people, and will keep cases open for as long as possible until all avenues have been exhausted,” he added.
“These write-offs are fractions of the amount we collect every year, which equate to around £58million in council taxes and business rates.”