Northumberland County Council writes-off £2million in debts

Northumberland County Council's County Hall
Northumberland County Council's County Hall

Northumberland County Council gave up on almost £2million of money it was owed last year.

The lauthority wrote off £1.95million of debt in 2018-19, slightly less than the £2.01million written off the previous year.

In 2016-17, the total was £1.77million, up from £1.44million the year before.

The figures were revealed in a report to a meeting of the council’s cabinet on June 11.

Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, said: “Anything that’s written off is a one-off cost to the council and the total amount of write-offs has remained pretty consistent to the previous year.

“It’s important to note that everything is done to try to get this money back and a lot of this is very old. It’s a last step when it’s clear the money will not be recovered.”

The break-down of last year’s numbers shows that 40% of the debt written off (£791,000) related to business rates, often where companies have been dissolved or gone into liquidation/administration. This was a rise of £180,000 from 2017-18.

Council tax accounted for another £475,000 of write-offs, although this figure is well down on what it was in the previous two years – £870,000 and £848,000 respectively.

There was also £395,000 written off in relation to housing rent and other debts – £187,000 more than in 2017-18, plus £166,000 in relation to benefit overpayments, a decrease of £8,000.

The remainder is made up of ‘sundry debts’ (£87,000) and adult social care (£38,000), both less than the year before.

The report to councillors explained: ‘An integral part of debt recovery is the effective management of irrecoverable debts to ensure that resources are applied effectively to the collection of monies outstanding which can reasonably be expected to be collected.’

The council’s reasons for writing off debt include the customer being insolvent; that they cannot be traced; the debt being uneconomical to pursue or to pursue further; administrative errors or loss of documentation; it being a contractual debt over six years old; the council having evidence to confirm that the customer is suffering a severe physical or mental illness; or the customer having died with no or insufficient funds in the estate to settle the debt.