Council forced to write off £300,000 of debt

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Bad debts are costing South Northants Council almost £300,000 a year.

This year the authority has been forced to write-off £61,153 of council tax, £146,592 of non-domestic rates and £79,404 of overpaid housing benefit, totalling £287,150.

These figures represent 0.13 per cent of all council tax collected, 0.71 per cent of non-domestic rates and 0.62 per cent of all housing benefit paid.

Councillor Ian McCord, portfolio holder for resources, said: “South Northants Council makes every effort to collect what is owed to it for the benefit of all council tax payers.

“It is only in circumstances where a debtor absolutely cannot pay, for example when they have died and their estate cannot cover the debt or, where they have been declared bankrupt, that we will consider writing-off a debt.

“In a few rare cases the write-off is a result of benefit fraud where the council has no realistic prospect of recouping its losses in the life-time of the fraudster.”

In the financial year 2012/13 £44,959 of council tax and £158,128 of non-domestic rates went uncollected, along with £12,140 of overpaid housing benefit, totalling £215,228.

The previous year £32,820 of council tax and £134,774 non-domestic rates were written off as well as £37,433 of overpaid housing benefit, a total of ££205,028.

Over the past three years, this has totalled almost three quarters of a million pounds.

Cllr McCord continued: “That said, SNC is consistently among the group of between 17 to 20 councils which collect 99 per cent or more of its council tax and non-domestic rates.”

He added many of the debts which were written off, may have been on the council’s books for some years while officers explore every possible way of recouping the losses.

Nationally the average percentage of council tax collected in England was 97.4 per cent in 2012/13. SNC collected 99.9 per cent.

In the same year, the national average for collection of non-domestic rates was 97.7 per cent. In South Northants this rate was 99.2 per cent.

Dia Chakravarty, political director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is crucial that councils keep taxes low to help already struggling families with the financial burden. It is also important that they pursue those who wilfully avoid settling their bill so that law-abiding residents aren’t made to pay more than their fair share for services.”