Policy & Service Standards Debt Recovery

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1 Policy & Service Standards Debt Recovery OPERATIONAL CONTEXT Money charged by, or owed to, the Council is used to support the delivery of essential services and the provision of facilities to enhance the quality of life for the community. Efficiency and excellence in debt recovery are therefore key requirements for making our policies work and a focus on customer service is at the forefront of all our policies. ACCESS TO OUR SERVICE AND RESOURCES FOR DELIVERY We will ensure that services are as accessible as possible to our customers, taking into account both the expectations of our customers, the available capacity within our teams and the cost effectiveness of service provision options. We will listen to what our customers say and respond. We will focus our policies on the things that are important to them. We will ensure that staff are well-trained and well-motivated to provide a balanced, professional and responsive service to our customers. TDC expects staff to comply with the conduct guidelines and the customer service protocols. We recognise that there may be times when customers are unhappy and we respect their right to tell us why this is - and challenge the decisions we make but we also expect customers to treat our staff with respect. FAIRNESS & EQUALITY OF TREATMENT We recognise and respect the diversity of the individuals and communities we serve. We will maintain our policies so as not to directly or indirectly discriminate against individuals for reasons of age, colour, disability, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexuality or any other unjust or spurious reasons. We also recognise that many customers, who are able to pay us without apparent difficulty or incident, may rarely contact us. We will always endeavour to ensure our policies are fair and balanced in terms of this wider customer base; as we recognise we provide services on behalf of the community as well as directly to individual members of the community. GETTING IT RIGHT We will send bills and notices promptly and they will be accurate and correct; based on the information and evidence available to the Council at the point of issue. The Council reserves the right to use its judgement as to the amount of verification and information required to issue and amend bills and notices especially where statutory exemptions, reliefs or discounts apply. For a further breakdown of this point, please refer to the relevant procedural guides for the different debt types. More advanced or ongoing recovery procedures will be dictated by the income management models & protocols agreed at the Income Management Group.

2 We will work with partner organisations in order to assist customers and understand their needs. Our aim is to achieve a balance between: - the Council s need to recover monies owed to protect resources; - a realistic approach to cost effective recovery; - reputational and public interest considerations. HELPING CUSTOMERS AVOID DEBT Debts are not good for our customers nor for the Council. We will do all we can to stop customers falling behind with payments which may involve us being proactive with customers about making payments on time, including: - sending written reminders, s or texts, or calling customers by phone; - offering and discussing the widest choice of but most cost-effective - payment methods for customers; - setting criteria for, and then agreeing, special payment arrangements for those with genuine difficulties; - signposting customers to money management advice at an early stage, in conjunction with our partner organisations, such as the CAB; Kent Benefits Partnership and other professional and third sector organisations. - Taking prompt legal action. HELPING CUSTOMERS REDUCE THEIR BILLS We will be proactive about keeping bills as low as possible especially in terms of encouraging and helping customers to get any benefits, discounts or reliefs they may be properly entitled to. We will do this by: - working closely with the business community, Department for Work & Pensions, third sector organisations and our own staff; - being proactive and using a variety of methods to contact customers for information that may help us to assist them; - exercising our discretionary powers proactively, fairly and costeffectively. CHARGING STRUCTURES Thanet Council is committed to keeping bills, fees and charges as reasonable as possible. We must also ensure that charging levels and policies support cash flow for the services we provide. The Council reserves the right to set charging structures, where not specifically regulated, to include: - prompt payment discounts; - discounts for the most cost-effective payment methods; - interest or penalty charges for late payments; - proportionate costs for recovery action taken.

3 Information about charges for Council services is always available on our website at Where charges are subject to change, the Council will publish changes in the following ways: - by updating charge information on the website; and/or; - by posting a notice of the revised charges at the point of service; and/or: - by informing individuals by post to their last known address. TAKING FIRM, BUT FAIR, ACTION WHEN UNABLE TO PROGRESS WITH DEBTS Despite our service commitment to avoid and reduce debts, we know we may still have cases where we receive no co-operation. Such cases must be tackled promptly and effectively, to avoid the debt becoming a burden for the customer and affecting the Council s resources. We are committed to using the widest range of methods available to us in order to tackle debts where we are unable to make progress. These methods will include: - attachment of benefits & earnings; - bailiffs; - bankruptcy, winding-up orders and liquidation; - charging orders; - professional, accredited and reliable debt recovery agencies; - court action, including eventual committal, where regulated, and where other methods have failed; We will co-operate with customers applying for Debt Relief Orders, insolvency or other debt relief initiatives as may be preferred from time to time. The list of debt recovery methods is neither exhaustive, nor in any particular order of preference. We will use the legislation and refer to good practice guides to decide on recovery methods. We will also use our experience and available information to assess which recovery methods will work best for each customer or debt type. DEALING WITH LATE, OR LACK OF, CONTACT CASES We recognise that it is not easy for anyone to face up to the fact they are in debt. We know that cases have often got to a very elevated stage of urgency before customers may decide to approach us for assistance, or they realise the seriousness of the situation. In managing cases where a lack of contact has been a factor and the level of recovery escalation is liability order, or County Court Judgement, or similar/ higher, we will check: - other records and information available to ensure we are using the most up-to-date address details for a customer when critical documentation has been issued with no response; - information held by Authorities indicating if the customer is vulnerable, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged in terms of an ability to communicate;

4 - notes of any previous contact with the Council by the customer that may indicate the nature of their difficulties; with a view to encouraging dialogue; - whether communications or other indicators point to the lack of contact being a deliberate act to avoid payment. In these cases, recovery will progress as normal. THANET COUNCIL S RIGHT TO CHOOSE HOW AND WHEN TO MANAGE OR RECOVER DEBTS As well as the legal timelines & constraints in terms of recovering debt with which, of course, Thanet will comply there are policy level decisions about how and when to manage a debt. Thanet reserves the right to take the following into consideration when making decisions about debt management: - the size of the debt when compared with the effort and costs which will be expended to recover it; - public interest tests, such as the ability to pay and the burden this may place on other areas of the public purse; - the Council s own financial position; - the prevailing economic climate; - the need to recover some debts as a point of principle where the debt arises as a result of a fine, penalty, or some other punitive measure - the ability to write-on previously written-off debts where the debtor was previously untraced, but where they have returned to the Thanet area, or fresh information comes to light. This list is not exhaustive, nor in any particular order of preference. DEBT & INCOME MANAGEMENT Thanet Council will maintain effective debt management procedures. These will cover guidance on how the relevant legislation affects debt recovery in a local authority context, write-offs and exercising discretion. Levels of Corporate Debt will be monitored through the Income Management Group (which meets Quarterly) with regular reports to Corporate Management Team. Service Managers responsible for Debt Recovery & Income Management are answerable to Corporate Management Team, through the Income Management Group. LINKED & ASSOCIATED POLICIES & PROCEDURES Fees & Charges Policy Value for Money Customer Service Protocols

5 RECOMMENDED DEBT MANAGEMENT MODELS The protocols will set out the full details of procedures for each model. It is generally accepted good practice to pay invoices within 30 days this is the standard to which Thanet Council adheres when paying invoices. We therefore expect our invoices to be paid on the same terms in the majority of cases. The first protocol set out below is the standard 30 day payment arrangement. Other debts may require a different model set under the terms of this policy. Type Of Debt Protocol Model Type Responsible Officer Unpaid General Fund Debt, raised through the Sundry Debt Civica 30 Revenues Operations Manager process SL1 s Standard Corporate - Service 30 day model Service Managers / Related Debt Business Sensitive Debts Commercial Marine Vessels As per individual agreements Quarterly in Advance Budget Holders Directors Director of Regeneration / Harbourmaster

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