Councillors 'reassured' at tackling of old debt at Northamptonshire County Council

The debt collection issues was discussed at cabinet
The debt collection issues was discussed at cabinet

Councillors are ‘reassured’ at the county council’s progress in recovering debt that it is owed from customers.

The council’s overview and scrutiny committee decided to take a look at how the council was tackling the issue after £1.1million was needed to put back into the 2019/20 budget to plug the gap for a collection of debt that had not been achieved.

The vast majority of the debt is owed to the council for adult social care, and it invoiced £7million more for it this year than it had in the previous 12 months.

After looking in detail at the collection of debts, the scrutiny panel was advised that the overall debt position was ‘relatively stable’ and on average 85-90 per cent of new income was collected.

But as of February this year, there was more than £7.2million in aged debt over 12 months old before its collection date.

The issue was discussed as the scrutiny committee recorded its findings to cabinet on April 9 at One Angel Square.

Councillor Chris Stanbra, a member of the committee, said: “You want to collect your debts before they even become overdue. I would ask that cabinet looks closely at the procedures in place to ensure that debts don’t become a problem.”

Head of adult social services, Anna Earnshaw, explained that changes were already underway.

She said: “The very first thing we need to do is be consistent in telling people that they will need to pay for care, and that they need to contact us as soon as possible if there is any issue. We’ve changed our processes in terms of the first 90 days, when the debt first occurs. We now send out social work teams with the debt team to have a very early conversation, so we’re seeing an improvement in the under 90 days debt.

“However, it’s the aged debt that keeps causing the financial pressures for us, so we’re trialling multiple things at the moment, extra teams, more external support, we’re trialling two legal companies to see whether we can recover more. We’re also increasing resources in the LGSS debt collection team.”

Councillors were also told that £1.6million of aged debt was currently being assessed by solicitors to identify, which cases should be pursued through court action, while a further £2.6million concerned cases were being disputed.

Cabinet member for adult social care, Councillor Sandra Naden-Horley, said: “I can assure you that we are being very vigilant going forward with the debt situation.”

And council leader Matt Golby added: “This is a big area of concern for us, but I do know that a number of things have been put in place for us to get better at this.”

The overview and scrutiny committee has said it will continue to monitor the in-year performance relating to debt, and its report concluded: “Members expressed confidence that the council was in a better position than in the past in relation to debt management and recovery, and that the lead officers involved had a good grasp of the situation. However, members emphasised that continued focus on this area was necessary.”

Cabinet agreed at the meeting to ensure that it has ‘effective arrangements in place’ to enable income to be collected and debts recovered promptly in order to minimise the risk of bad debt accruing.