North Northamptonshire Council writes-off more than £400k of bad debt from eight accounts - but public not allowed to know who owes the money
Unpaid business rates and housing benefit overpayments worth £406,702 were written off by North Northamptonshire Council’s executive yesterday (October 12) after they were deemed irrecoverable.
But members of the public will never know who owed the cash to the public purse because details of the accounts could not be made public to protect the privacy of the debtors.
The ‘eye-watering’ amount is owed by just eight accounts – six of them are business and two are people in receipt of housing benefits. Smaller debts are much easier for officers at large authorities to write-off but any amount owed over £25,000 has to be ratified by council members.
At yesterday’s executive meeting at Corby Cube, a report told members that the debt was irrecoverable despite the best efforts of officers.
Although members could have chosen to not write-off the amounts owed, they were told that the debts would have to be periodically reviewed and pursued by officers, which would not be economical.
Addressing the meeting, opposition Councillor Lyn Buckingham (Lab, Lloyds) said: “With any write-off I know the amount of work that’s gone into this. Obviously a lot of it is around the legacy sovereign councils and some of the problems in getting money in, although £406,000 is eye-watering to think of it.
"But when spread across the districts it’s not as much as it seems and it needs to be done.”
Finance portfolio holder Cllr Lloyd Bunday (Con, Ise) said: “Although this authority has a duty to maximise revenue collection there are from time to time circumstances that arise in which amounts due must, for all practical and legal purposes, be deemed uncollectable.
"Any account with an outstanding balance in excess of £25,000 cannot be written off without the approval of the executive.”
The eight accounts were detailed in an ‘Appendix A’ which councillors had sight of, but which members of the public and press were not allowed to see.
The Local Government Act allows authorities to keep the financial affairs of individuals out of public reports unless information if the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
Cllr Bunday added: "Can I remind members that any discussion appertaining to the contents of Appendix A should be not entered into in open forum.”
He said there had been ‘numerous attempts’ to recover the debts.
His colleague Cllr David Brackenbury (Con, Thrapston) said: “Without going into any specifics I would just point out the large amount of work the council put into chasing these debts and that pays some tribute to that team for the hard work they’ve put in.
"There does come a point in this large multi-billion pount organisation where some write-offs become inevitable.”
If the status of the debtors changes and the debt is deemed to be recoverable at any point in the next six years, NNC can choose to re-start their efforts to recover it.
Although there are no reasons given for these eight debts to have been deemed irrecoverable, possible reasons can include bankruptcy, company insolvency or long-term imprisonment.