Northumberland County Council writes off £2million in debt in one year

Northumberland County Council wrote off just over £2million of debt last year – a slight rise on the amount written off in 2018-19.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 8th July 2020, 6:00 am
Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services.
Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services.

The report to Northumberland County Council’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday, July 7, which is prepared annually by finance officers, revealed that the authority wrote off a total of £2.098million in 2019-20, up from £2.089million the previous year.

The total had also been a little more than £2million in 2017-18, but £1.77million in 2016-17, the figures reveal.

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Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services for Northumberland County Council, explained that the write-offs ‘very rarely’ impact on the council’s bottom line, as they are usually older debts so provision in the budget has already been made.

Within the total figure, the bulk of the debt written off in 2019-20 was business rates which went unpaid, accounting for more than half at £1.1million. This figure was an increase from £791,000 the year before.

However, 90% of the total was attributable to just 19 businesses, including the £340,000 owed by one Hexham firm that went bankrupt and therefore did not pay the bill.

Council tax debt written off totalled £158,000, a significant drop from £477,000, while sundry debt write-offs owed to different council departments was £266,000, up from £225,000.

Housing rent and other debt rose to £508,000 in 2019-20, up from £395,000 the previous year and £208,000 the year before that. However, Coun Oliver explained that this was only introduced into the report in 2017-18, so there is likely to be a cumulative effect as debts become older.

Write-offs for benefit overpayments were the lowest in four years at £103,000.

Finally, there was just £5,000 of adult social care debt written off, down from £38,000 and £44,000 in the previous two years.

“Collection rates in all of these areas are higher than the average and this department does a lot of good work,” Coun Oliver said.

“I’m happy with this level of write-offs, we’re taking a very prudent and proactive approach.”

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