Thurrock Council has developed a new Fair Debt approach, alongside Citizens Advice and other external agencies. The new approach will make sure residents who are struggling to pay their debts to the council have the opportunity to get the help and support they need. It will also make sure those who can pay but habitually don't are taken to task.
At their meeting on Tuesday 16 November, members of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee received an update on the council's Fair Debt initiatives. This included draft Corporate Fair Debt Policy that sets out how the council will ensure debts are fairly and responsibly managed, and a new vulnerable persons policy for those owing money.
The policy sets out an approach for billing and collecting debt that includes:
- ensuring residents receive clear, up-to-date information about what they owe the council and that numerous payment options are made available to everyone
- obtaining a 'single view of debt' for those who owe different payments to the council, that will allow, where appropriate, one overall plan to clear their debt
- support to be made available for those who are struggling or vulnerable to help them clear their debt and better manage their finances in the future
- using all legal powers possible to recover debt from those who can pay but choose not to on an habitual basis
Cllr Shane Hebb, Cabinet Member for Finance, said: "This policy has come from what we learned, from various contributors, at the Fair Debt Summit. It ensures that those struggling get help and support and that those who have the resources but deliberately and consistently attempt to avoid payment do not get away with it. For context at the current time 20% of the Council Tax arrears – around £1m - is owed by just 5% of debtors.
"Not all debt should be treated the same and this policy will ensure that residents have all the information they need on what they owe the council, multiple pathways to make payment, help on hand if they find themselves in trouble and a robust response to those who think that they should allow others to pay their way by avoiding payment, including the top-habitual offenders being taken through the process of committal if they continue not to pay.
"It is the latest outcome from the Fair Debt Summit along with new lessons in financial management for school pupils in the borough and the nationally recognised single ‘view of debt’ management system."
Cllr Sue Little, Chair of Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said: "Debt can be extremely worrying for many people, especially because it can often be so complex to tackle.
"This policy takes a holistic view and puts fairness at the heart of the council's debt management by providing clear information, easy access and help when needed. It also takes a firm approach in recovering those that try to shirk their responsibilities for selfish reasons."