Council writes-off more than £400,000 in unpaid debt

The move was rubber-stamped by councillors, although some expressed concern about the arrears.

Renfrewshire Council writes-off more than £400,000 in unpaid business debt iStock

More than £400,000 of irrecoverable debt has been written off by Renfrewshire Council.

The move was rubber-stamped by elected members at the finance, resources and customer services policy board on Thursday.

It means a number of businesses, either dissolved or liquidated, will not be expected to make further payments on specific bills.

A total of £437,532.71 was authorised for write-off, although elected members did express concerns about unpaid debts.

Labour councillor Chris Gilmour asked about the possibility of early intervention when companies’ debts are beginning to mount.

He said: “The sad man that I am, I don’t do Wordle but I certainly go into Companies House to have a quick look at the accounts of these people and it’s certainly quite frightening when you look at it.

“In Renfrewshire, we do support business. We’re keen to see businesses be successful and bring jobs and revenue, however, I wonder if the council could intervene slightly earlier when they see these debts mounting?

“Some here go back to 2017 and it’s every year – 2016 in some cases – a failure to pay debt.

“Will officers intervene earlier perhaps with some advice or even just to make sure that it’s being watched?

“I can understand businesses being in financial difficulty during the pandemic, I think everyone was, but some of these debts are quite historic.”

SNP board convener John Shaw said there was “constant intervention” before asking Emma Shields, senior service delivery manager, to explain the process for debt recovery.

Ms Shields said: “When we bring the accounts for write-off, we’re at the stage where there isn’t any option for further recovery.

“There is a robust recovery process that we go through for the volumes of debts.

“That’s operated through the legislative framework that we use for recovery.

“There’s very early reminders, notices are issued to businesses and that’s followed by, if non-payment in line with those recovery notices, a summary warrant being obtained and then we work with our sheriff officer partners where they implement that warrant for the attempted recovery.”

She said the local authority continued to review its processes but added that when it comes to non-domestic rates and council tax, it must continue to bill.

Ms Shields explained: “It’s not a service that we’re providing where we can threaten to stop the service.

“We have to continue to bill, which is where you will see the debts increasing over years where payments aren’t received.”

Councillor Gilmour responded: “I appreciate everything that has been said but when I see debts of £44,000, £35,000, £29,000, £17,000, year after year, that frankly worries me.”

Councillor Shaw agreed and said it was a “worry” for him as well.

“We’ve got to continue to bill even if they’re not paying,” he added.

“If they’re still there and they’re still running as a company then it will continue.

“I share your concerns, I’m not in any way disputing anything you’re saying.”

The debts which the council decided to write off are made up of around £17,000 from sundry debtors and almost £420,000 relating to non-domestic rates.

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