Sundry debts recovery policy

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1 Sundry debts recovery policy The term Sundry Debtors covers the range of miscellaneous debts raised by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council in relation to many different Council services. It excludes the Council's mainstream debts, e.g. Council Tax and Business Rates, but includes such diverse items as reimbursement of capital works, other rechargeable works and repairs, trade waste, service charges, commercial rents, social services contributions to care packages and other fees and charges. The nature of these debts are different to other debts in that, to a large extent, it is the customer s choice to take up the service and therefore the customer should have considered the affordability prior to taking up the service. This policy assumes that the service is using the sundry debt process to recover monies as a last resort payment prior to, or at the point of service delivery still remains the most efficient and effective method. The Sundry Debt team will advise service managers on alternative methods of collecting monies to improve the cash flow of the Council. The Council continuously strives for efficiencies and increasingly will be expecting payment for services prior to, or at the point of service delivery to minimise the cost of administering debts in the future. Directors of the Council will be challenged by the Director of Finance where debts are raised without checking for an alternative method of payment. Principles of the recovery policy In accordance with the Council s financial policies it is the Council s aim to recover all income due to it in an efficient manner. Strong and prompt inward cash flow reduces administration and recovery costs which in turn support the budget and reduce the level of Council Tax. The provision of a policy demonstrates that the Council regards its role of dealing with financial administration of public monies as crucial, and wishes to be transparent and accountable in its dealings with its external customers and its internal administrative procedures. The Council also has a duty of care to all its customers. All customers should be treated with courtesy and respect and this should be a guiding principle in the recovery of debt.

2 Policy aims and effectiveness The key aims of this policy are as follows: To maximise the collection and recovery of sundry debts To ensure a professional, consistent and timely approach to recovery action To use cost effective, fair and proportionate collection and recovery procedures To ensure that debts are managed in accordance with legislative provisions and best practice. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has a legal duty to ensure cost-effective billing, collection and recovery of all sums due to the Council. For the policy to be effective it is vital to ensure that: Service users are clearly advised at the outset that provision of services may incur charges Accurate and clear invoices are produced promptly The issue of reminders to customers with outstanding debts is in line with agreed procedures Positive action is taken to prevent arrears occurring for example by providing a range of payment methods, direct debit being the preferred method. A quick response to changes in circumstances is provided and people are encouraged to make early contact with us to avoid a build up of debt Procedures and legislation regarding enforcement action are adhered to. The need to get in touch is central to the policy. Where a person makes contact their circumstances will be considered with a view to agreeing a reasonable payment arrangement, minimising recovery action and helping to alleviate hardship. Where people fail to make contact or maintain arrangements recovery action will continue. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council believes that people have a responsibility to pay and that a firm debt recovery policy is essential. The nature of sundry debts are such that customers should pay promptly after making the choice to take up the service; in the rare cases where circumstances change then it may be possible to agree a short term arrangement. General All notices issued by the Council will comply with the corporate style guidance and be readily identifiable as being from the Council. In the interest of economy, and where appropriate, invoices, reminders, court warning notices and other documents will be issued by e mail when this becomes possible

3 unless contrary to regulations or other statutory or legal requirements, and otherwise by second class or first class post as appropriate. Payment of invoices The Council will encourage the most cost effective payment methods with the emphasis being on electronic means where possible. Where practical, for example for regular charges, customers will be invited to pay by Direct Debit. Direct debit is mandatory for all rents and lease arrangements. All pre-printed stationery will show details of possible payment methods, and also how and where to pay. Unpaid Debts Except in the case of an invoice payable by instalments, or as otherwise contractually agreed, the settlement terms for all invoices will be no longer than 28 days. After 28 days the Council (with Capita providing the management of the service) will use the most appropriate and effective methods of debt recovery in order to maximise income. The Sundry Debt team will apply a consistent approach, in line with agreed procedures, to all debts. Ownership of all debts rests with the originating department who will review all outstanding debts, supported by the Capita Sundry Accounts Receivable team responsible for monitoring and recovering debts. It is only the originating department that may correspond with or discuss with the customer issues relating to the validity of the debt. Where legally permissible, the provision of future services to the customer will be suspended until outstanding debts are settled once a Court Warning Notice has been issued. This suspension will be written into any arrangement made between the Council and the customer. No other fees will be added to the debt without the approval of the Director of Finance. Principles of enforcement The Council will follow principles derived from the Government s Enforcement Concordat. Action will be proportional it will allow for a balance to be struck between the potential loss of income to the Council and the costs of compliance. The approach will be consistent which means taking a similar approach in similar circumstances to achieve similar ends in the advice given, the use of powers and the recovery procedures used. This does not mean simple

4 uniformity: many variables will be taken into account such as the social circumstances of the customer, the customer s payment history and the customer s ability to pay. Action will be transparent which means explaining the reasons to customers for taking enforcement action. Prior to statutory methods of enforcement being taken, officers may use, where cost effective to do so, external collection agents and telephone contact with the customer as an alternative means of recovering sundry debts. All statutory methods of enforcement of debts shall be available for use including attachment of earnings, warrants of execution, charging orders, third party debts, insolvency and possession proceedings. Deductions from DWP benefits may be requested in certain circumstances. All Departments will apply this policy as a minimum. The process of recovery of Commercial Rents has specific requirements due to the Council s role as landlord. Payment arrangements It may be possible to consider instalment arrangements for any debts not covered by contractual agreements. Arrangements must clear the balance within a reasonable time, the limits of which will be agreed with the Director of Finance. Arrangements are only acceptable if paid by direct debit, standing orders, or payment cards. Payment arrangements will usually attract interest charges and an administration fee. If an arrangement is broken the standard recovery process continues; the customer will be required to pay the debt in full. Officers and Members of the Council All officers and Members of the council will be expected to pay any monies due to the Council relating to their employment as and when requested. Upon leaving the employment of the Council officers will be expected to discharge all their liabilities to the Council before their last day of employment. Any amounts not paid will, where lawful, be deducted from their pay. Debt advice services Where people have financial difficulties and would appreciate advice about money management and repaying debts the Council has money advisors in the Advice Service who can help with budgeting and planning to get out of debt. The Advice for

5 all service can be found on the Council s website (link: b bc ed544f). The service is based at Blackburn Central Library, Town Hall Street, Blackburn.

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