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Swindon Council Writes Off Over £2.5m of Debt

In the last 12 months over £2.5million pounds of unpaid debt has been written off by Swindon Council.

Papers provided by the Council show that there was more than £2.5m of outstanding debts waiting to be collected, including council tax, business rates and parking tickets. The outstanding amount which was written off was outstanding from the period April 2008 to March 2009.

Broken down, the figures reveal that out of the £2,501,366 that is outstanding £868,066 was for non-domestic rates, £614,601 was for council tax, £266,038 of car parking penalty charge notices, £160,000 of benefit overpayments and £73,000 of housing rents with £519,661 outstanding from other sources.

The figures equate to just over one per cent of the charges that were collected over the year and the net revenue budget for the council in 2008/09 was £126m. The papers also show that £240,000 of charges for 2008/09 were still being chased as of last month.

However, the move has come under fire with Labour leader Coun Derique Montaut saying  “I think when people see that kind of money being written-off at the same time that services are being cut they are going to be understandably angry. There are issues with the way the council collects council tax. There are questions that can be asked over how effective that service is.”

Political director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Susie Squires, said “The issue is council tax is incredibly high. People in Swindon have seen their council tax rocket in recent years and the council needs to look at every option to ease the financial burden on people. While we don’t want to see the council chasing pensioners down the street demanding money it is important measures are taken to discourage wastage. Overpayment of benefits is one area of unnecessary waste which could easily be eliminated.”

Swindon Council said “Unfortunately local authorities, like all organisations and businesses, do end up having to write off money they are owed because the debts can’t be recovered. This can be because of bankruptcies, fraud, or people making themselves difficult or impossible to trace. We do pursue all debts vigorously, and our record on debt recovery is as good as the best performing authorities in the UK, but there comes a point when it simply isn’t cost-effective to continue to do this, and the money has to be written off.”

Clearly, if the debt collection record was as good as the leading agencies, there would not be such an oustanding amount of debt being written off.