Following exclusion of the press and public, full consideration was given to the joint report of the Portfolio Holder for Finance and the Executive Director Commercialisation, which sought approval for the write off of uncollectable debt, and to review and agree the process for delegated approval of debt write off.
Members debated a number of issues in relation to write-offs, and the following issues were raised in respect of each of the proposed recommendations:
Recommendation 1 – Amounts identified in report to be approved for write-off
· The amount of write-offs over a period of years was quoted as a single figure. Without this information being separated out into yearly figures, it was difficult to see any trends. Officers confirmed that they would provide analysis in this way in the future, in order that members could see historic trends.
· It appeared that some debts, for both Council Tax and Business Rates, had accrued over a number of years. Could these individuals and businesses be looked at sooner? Officers responded that every case was considered on its own merits, and there was no one consistent response. Members were invited to discuss individual cases with officers in more detail outside of the meeting.
· Members stated that similar questions regarding debt recovery had been raised in the past, and that members should meet with officers to discuss the various scenarios and processes that were involved in the recovery of debt. It was the responsibility of members to monitor these issues and to ultimately agree to write off debt, but more information on the processes employed by officers was required. Members were advised that there was an operational policy relating to the write-off of debt which provided this information, and that officers followed it. It was agreed that officers would arrange a workshop for members, providing the information required, giving more detailed information on 2-3 of the cases mentioned within the report, and inviting an individual from the enforcement agency used by the Council to attend and explain the processes they undertook.
Recommendation 2 – To consider options set out in section 3.7 of the report with regards to authorisation limits for the write-off of debt.
· Members were not happy to agree to passing authority for writing off of debt to a third party (Compass Point Business Services) on behalf of the Authority. They wished that responsibility for agreeing to the write-off of debt remain with the Cabinet, with a steer from the Section 151 Officer, who was also asked to look at the level of delegation she had.
a) It was agreed that officers would arrange a workshop for members, providing the information required;
b) That Option 3, detailed within section 3.7 of the report be agreed as the Cabinet’s preferred option and that the S151 officer be asked to review the level of the financial limit:
· Existing arrangements – Debt up to £1.050, Section 151 Officer; Debt above £1,050, Cabinet.
(Other options considered:
· Do nothing; or
· Approve the recommendations with amendments
Reasons for decision:
· All recovery methods available had been considered and where appropriate pursued before making the decision to write off.
· Officer time could be maximised on greatest returns, at the same time as ensuring robust procedures for debt management were in place across all revenue streams)