Economic Growth and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee

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1 C Economic Growth and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee Date: 21 July 2015 Debt Recovery Update Report of the Chief Executive Cabinet Member: Councillor Dave Ledger, Deputy Leader of the Council Purpose of report The purpose of this report is to provide the committee with information relating to the level of outstanding debt owed to the Council so that the committee may satisfy itself as to the efficiency and effectiveness of its collection and recovery policies and systems. Recommendations It is recommended that the contents of the report are noted. Link to Corporate Plan Effective income management processes are critical to the delivery of overall Council service objectives. A more efficient income management process contributes to the availability of resources for wider or deeper service provision. Key issues The management of income is a key business area for Northumberland County Council. The Council collects income from many sources; some of this activity is governed by legislation while other areas by sound principles of financial management. The key to economic, efficient and effective income management is the creation and maintenance of a clear framework that sets out the approach, principles, ownership and strategy within which all activities will be conducted. It is essential that income is collected effectively by the Council, and that debt owed to the Council is kept to a minimum. This is because the Council has both a legal duty and a responsibility to its citizens to ensure that income due is paid promptly to ensure it can minimise the burden of unpaid debt and enhance service delivery. The management of all monies owed to the Council is detailed in the Corporate Debt Recovery Policy and includes the following: Council Tax and NNDR Recovery Policy Council Tax and NNDR Court Costs and Fees Policy Housing and Council Tax Benefit Overpayments Policy Methods of Payment Policy Write Off Policy Sundry Debt Policy Overpaid Salaries and Wages Policy Bankruptcy Policy Debt Recovery Update Page 1 of 13

2 Bailiff Code of Practice for Council Tax and NNDR Background Write Offs 1. An integral part of debt recovery is the effective management of irrecoverable debts to ensure that resources are applied effectively to the collection of monies outstanding which can reasonably be expected to be collected. 2. The total debt written off in , , and is shown below: Sundry debt 1,165, , , , Council Tax 464, , , , Non-Domestic Rates 945, ,555, ,037, , Benefit Overpayments 624, , , , Total 3,200, ,548, ,149, ,722, The write-offs were reported to the Executive on 8 May 2012, the and write-offs were reported to Policy Board on 28 May 2013 and 10 June 2014, respectively, and the write-offs were reported to Cabinet on 9 June 2015 in accordance with the Council s Finance and Contract Rules. 4. As at 30 June 2015 the following amounts have been written off during the financial year in accordance with the Council s write-off policy: Sundry debt 7, Council Tax 37, Non-Domestic Rates 20, Benefit Overpayments 1, Total 67, Sundry Debt 5. At 30 June 2015 the Council was owed million by its sundry debtors, million of which was past due. The debt, analysed by its maturity, is shown below (31 January 2015, 30 September 2014 and 30 June 2014 figures per the last reports to this Committee are shown for comparison): Age of debt 30 June September 2014 Balance Balance Up to 3 months past due 892 5,769 1,694 1,408 3 to 6 months past due ,036 6 to 9 months past due to 12 months past due to 5 years past due 728 1, ,876 Over 5 years past due Debt past due date 2,203 8,540 3,171 4,754 Debt within terms 3,866 5,051 4,403 7,832 Total debt 6,069 13,591 7,574 12,586 Debt Recovery Update Page 2 of 13

3 Age of debt 31 January June 2015 Balance Balance Up to 3 months past due 853 2, ,741 3 to 6 months past due 382 1, to 9 months past due to 12 months past due to 5 years past due 783 1, ,273 Over 5 years past due Debt past due date 2,434 6, ,449 Debt within terms 4,123 5, ,222 Total debt 6,557 11, , The latest CIPFA benchmarking data shows that the Council has collected 98% of invoices within 3 months, against an average of 88% across the contributing Councils in the benchmarking club. 7. The majority of the pre LGR migrated debt has been either collected or written off. 48 invoices, totalling 0.07m, remained outstanding at 30 June Eight debtors owed the Council in excess of 0.1 million at 31 January 2015 (there were five as at 31 January 2015 and 30 September 2014, and six as at 30 June 2014) representing approximately 57% of the total sum past due as follows: Customer 31 January June 2015 Number of Value Past Number of Value Past NHS Customer 2 (see note 1) Council 1 (see note 2) 6 1, ,804 Council 2 (see note 3) Company 3 (see note 4) Company Company 5 (see note 5) Company 6 (see note 6) Insurance 1 (see note 7) Customer 1 (see note 8) Total 47 2, , Being pursued. 2. Payment is expected beginning of July. 3. Payment is expected in July. 4. Payment arrangement made to clear by 31 August. 5. Has only just gone past due being pursued. 6. Have only just gone past due being pursued. 7. In dispute. 8. Land Registry charge registered against the owner s title Debt Recovery Update Page 3 of 13

4 9. Analysis of the level of overdue debt by the service area raising the invoices is shown below (again with 31 January 2015 figures for comparison): Service Area 31 January June 2015 Value Past Value Past Adult Services (including Housing) 931 3, ,281 Children s Services Finance Fire Local Services (including 588 1, ,017 Property) Pension Fund Public Health / Public Protection Regeneration Schools Transformation Total 2,434 6,156 2,065 5,449 Adult Social Care Debt 10. At the last meeting on 24 February 2015 further discussion took place regarding Adult Social Care debt and a detailed analysis is provided below. 11. Northumbria Healthcare provides a range of Adult Social Care services on behalf of the Council, some of which clients must pay for. 12. Northumbria Healthcare issue invoices for the provision of various care services (home care, residential care, respite care and lifeline alarms), and recovers debts that accrue through the Council s Accounts Receivable computer system. The Adult Social Care Finance Team is responsible for the recovery of all monies owed. 13. The Adult Services (including Housing) debt as at 30 June 2015, analysed by its maturity, is shown below (31 January 2015 figures per the last report to this Committee are shown for comparison): Age of debt 31 January June 2015 Balance Balance Up to 3 months past due to 6 months past due to 9 months past due to 12 months past due to 5 years past due 357 1, ,782 Over 5 years past due Debt past due date 931 3, ,281 Debt within terms 1,977 3,901 1,737 6,353 Total debt 2,908 7,244 2,537 9,634 Debt Recovery Update Page 4 of 13

5 14. The debt past due is broken down as follows: 31 January June 2015 Value Past Value Past Housing Services Council 1 (see note 1) 4 1, ,799 NHS Customer 2 (see note 2) Other companies and organisations Deceased Estates Individual service customers Debt past due date 931 3, , Payment is expected beginning of July which will reduce the overall outstanding debt significantly. 2. Being pursued. 15. At 30 June 2015 there were 222 individual service customers with invoices past due. The invoice balances range from 1.00 to 52,000 with 31 invoices over 5,000. For comparison as at 31 January 2015 there were 267 individual service customers with invoices past due. The invoice balances ranged from 1.00 to 52,000 with 19 invoices over 5,000. There are only approximately 29 persistent non-payers down from 35 as at 31 January 2015), with the remainder either on payment arrangements, with the Council s debt collection agent; under investigation, or awaiting write off. 16. There are currently around 4,000 service users who have been assessed for their ability to pay social care charges (residential and non-residential combined). Of these, approximately 1,100 are assessed to pay no charge and around 2,900 pay a contribution at some level up to the full cost of their care % of those residential care customers and 77.0% of those non-residential care customers (up from 76.7% on 31 January 2015) currently pay their charges by Direct Debit. 18. The total Adult Social Care invoiced debt written off in , , and (included in paragraph 2 above) is shown below: Adult Social Care debt 84, , , , , Adult Social Care invoiced debt has been written off to date in (included in paragraph 4 above). 20. In addition the total written off in , , and in respect of debts deemed irrecoverable prior to an invoice being raised (not included in paragraph 2 above) is shown below: Part 3 Adult Social 16, , Debt Recovery Update Page 5 of 13

6 Care debt in respect of Part 3 non-invoiced debt has been written off to date in (not included in paragraph 4 above). 22. Regarding comparable data: Data on Adult Social Care debt from has been provided to the North East Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and is currently being supplied to Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Benchmarking data should be available later in the year. 23. Regarding monitoring and measuring how good the service to the most vulnerable customers actually is: Customer feedback is managed by the Adult Services Complaints Team and statistics on complaints for 2014 were included in the Annual Complaints Report to Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 28 April In complaints and 11 compliments were received in relation to Adult Social Care Financial Services. Out of the 6 complaints 2 were upheld, 2 were partially upheld and 2 were not upheld. 25. For comparison, in complaints and 10 compliments were received in relation to Adult Social Care Financial Services. 26. So far during this financial year 2 complaints and 3 compliments have been received in relation to Adult Social Care Financial Services. Deferred Payments Agreements 27. In addition to debts that are invoiced through the Accounts Receivable system, Northumbria Healthcare operate and administer Deferred Payment Agreements in accordance with Section 55 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001, replaced by Sections 34 and 35 of The Care Act 2014 (which came into force in April 2015 and which is currently being implemented). 28. Deferred Payments Agreements allow clients, who own property, to defer the sale of their home where it is needed to fund residential or nursing home care fees. The amount which accrues as a debt until the sale of the property is secured by way of a Legal Charge on the property. 29. At 30 June 2015 there were 55 Deferred Payment Agreements for Adult Social Care Charges to the value of 838, For comparison, at 31 January 2015 there were 70 Agreements to the value of 1,117,472. Council Tax 30. Council Tax is charged on domestic dwellings in the County. There are currently 149,212 domestic dwellings in Northumberland, with a net collectable debit of million for Each financial year there will be an amount of Council Tax that is not paid and that amount is added to the arrears that were carried forward at the start of the financial year (less the amount collected during the year) to give a total arrears figure outstanding. At 31 March million was outstanding in total ( 4.0 million relating to the financial year). For comparison, at 31 March million was outstanding in total ( 4.2 million relating to the Debt Recovery Update Page 6 of 13

7 financial year). The arrears have been reduced by 1.3 million since 1 April The Council s collection rate for in-year collection (this does not include arrears) for recovered to 97.7%. In collection dropped by 0.2% due to the effects of the technical reforms for unoccupied dwellings and the economic climate in general. The collection rate for was again the highest of the 12 North East Councils, above the 97.0% national average for all local authorities in England and well above the 96.8% national average for all Unitary authorities in England. Collection rates for all years from are shown below. Council Tax % The in-year collection rate at 30 June 2015 was 29.2%, and has been consistent in Quarter 1 for the last 3 years despite the net collectable debit increasing year on year. The net collectable debit for is 5.3 million more than million more was collected in the first quarter of compared to the same period in Our target in-year collection rate for is 97.7%. 35. During the previous four financial years the Council issued the following recovery notices: st or 2 nd Reminders 43,541 40,099 43,245 42,294 Final Notices 4,229 3,843 3,427 3,471 Summonses 14,373 12, ,617 Liability Orders 10,890 9,917 10,157 10, So far during this financial year the Council has issued: 14,354 1 st or 2 nd Reminders; 498 Final Notices; 4,243 Summonses; and 3,227 Liability Orders. 37. Recovery action is an on-going process and follows a strict monthly timetable that is arranged in conjunction with the Magistrates Courts. A breakdown of some of the enforcement methods that are used, and the number of cases currently subjected to that type of action is as follows: Number of cases Outstanding Amount Attachment of benefit 2, Attachment of earnings 2, Enforcement Agent (Formerly Bailiff) 3,857 1,718 Committal (see notes 1 & 2 below) Debt Recovery Update Page 7 of 13

8 Bankruptcy/Statutory Demands (see note 2 below) Charging Orders (see note 2 below) So far during this financial year 1 Council Tax defaulter has been sent to prison for 12 days following several court hearings. 2. These cases can comprise one or multiple Liability Orders. 38. During , and the following number of cases were subject to enforcement action: Number of cases Number of cases Number of cases Attachment of benefit 3,046 3,256 3,332 Attachment of earnings 3,412 3,838 4,002 Enforcement Agent (Formerly Bailiff) 4,750 4,612 4,542 Committal (see notes 1 & 2 below) Statutory Demands (see note 2 below) Bankruptcy Petitions (see note 2 below) Bankruptcy Orders (see note 2 below) Interim Charging Orders (see note 2 below) Final Charging Orders (see note 2 below) During three Council Tax defaulters, who continually breached Court orders for payment, were sent to prison for terms ranging between 15 and 90 days. During and one defaulter and six defaulters, respectively, were sent to prison for non-payment. 2. These cases can comprise one or multiple Liability Orders. National, Non-Domestic Rates (Business Rates) 39. National, Non-Domestic Rates are charged on business properties in the County. There are currently 12,259 business properties in Northumberland, with a total rateable value of over 200 million, and with a net collectable debit of 80.0 million for Each financial year there will be an amount of Business Rates that is not paid and that amount is added to the arrears that were carried forward at the start of the financial year (less the amount collected during the year) to give a total arrears figure outstanding. At 31 March million was outstanding in total ( 1.5 million relating to the financial year). For comparison, at 31 March million was outstanding in total ( 2.0 million relating to the financial year). The arrears have been reduced by nearly 0.3 million since 1 April The Council s collection rate for in-year collection (this does not include arrears) was 97.9% in , the highest since Local Government Reorganisation. This performance matches the average performance of all Unitary authorities in England, and is just below average compared to the other 11 North East Councils (98.0%) and just below the average compared to all local authorities in England (98.1%). Northumberland s rateable value is, however, very volatile and the County has the highest number of opencast coal sites in the country, amounting to 25% of the total rateable value for opencast coal sites in the country). Those sites are reassessed in the fourth quarter of every year with back-dated bills going out at the end of each financial year with payment usually being received in the following financial Debt Recovery Update Page 8 of 13

9 year. As collection rates are calculated as at 31 st March each year this puts Northumberland at a disadvantage when they are reported. Collection rates for all years from are shown below. Council Tax % The in-year collection rate at 30 June 2015 was 29.2% compared with 30.2% at 30 June The drop in the collection rate is mainly due to the normal fluctuations in assessments and rateable value, and ratepayers changing from 10 monthly instalment plans to payment in 12 instalments. The net collectable debit for is 0.2 million more than Our target in-year collection rate for is 97.9%. 44. During the previous four financial years the Council issued the following recovery notices: Reminders 4,758 4,148 3,768 3,524 Summonses 1,668 1, ,060 Liability Orders 1, So far during this financial year the Council has issued: 1,435 Reminders; 317 Summonses; and 199 Liability Orders. 46. There are currently 166 cases at Enforcement Agent stage with an outstanding amount of 0.66m, 13 at committal* stage totalling 0.02m and 9 at statutory demand/bankruptcy* stage totalling 0.07m. * These cases can comprise one or multiple Liability Orders. 47. During , and the following number of cases were subject to enforcement action: cases cases cases Enforcement Agent (Formerly Bailiff) Committal (see note 1) Statutory Demands (see note 2) Bankruptcy Petitions (see note 2) Bankruptcy Orders (see note 2) No ratepayers have been sent to prison for non-payment since These cases can comprise one or multiple Liability Orders. Debt Recovery Update Page 9 of 13

10 Housing Benefit Overpayments 48. Housing benefit overpayments are payments of benefit to which there was no entitlement. Reasons for overpayment are mainly changes in financial circumstances (automatic tax credit uploads; differences between new claims and details held on system e.g. finances, capital held, family members and the detection of fraud), claimants vacating their properties with little or no notice or claimants passing away. The Council has an Overpayment Policy which details overpayment collection. 49. Council Tax benefit and Council Tax Support overpayments are collected through the Council Tax account and any non-payment is subject to the process described above. 50. The Council receives subsidy of up to 40% for most of its housing benefit overpayments and any additional money collected is kept by the Council. In overpayments of 3.5 million were identified with 1.6 million being recovered in-year (46.8%). This compares with 59.3% being recovered inyear in and 61.7% in-year in A further 0.9 million was collected in respect of overpayments identified prior to 1 April As at 30 June 2015 a further 1.0 million overpayments have been identified, of which 0.3 million has been recovered (34.4%). A further 0.3 million has also been recovered in respect of overpayments identified prior to 1 April There is currently 4.4 million outstanding in respect of housing benefit overpayments ( 0.7m in respect of overpayments identified in and 3.7m in respect of prior years). 4.3m is recoverable and recovery action is taking place utilising the following methods of recovery (with 30 June 2014 figures for comparison): Recovery Method 30 June 2014 Amount m 30 June 2015 Amount m On-going entitlement to benefit Invoice stage in the debtors system Reminder stage in the debtors system Final stage in the debtors system External debt collector Attachment of benefit Direct Earnings Attachment Total Part 6 of the Social Security (Overpayments and Recovery) Regulations 2013 (SI 384 of 2013) allows for Housing Benefit Overpayments to be recovered via Direct Earnings Attachments, without the need to obtain a court order. The number of orders has gradually increased from 13 as at 31 January 2014, 151 as at 30 June 2014, 201 as at 30 September 2014, 294 as at 31 January 2015 to 342 as at 30 June Debt Recovery Update Page 10 of 13

11 54. When it is identified that a debtor has begun to claim benefit again, and payments are not being made, the debt is brought back into the benefit system and is recovered from on-going benefit entitlement. Current developments 55. Since the last report to the Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee in February 2015 work has been on-going to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the billing, collection and recovery of all monies due to the Council. 56. Following the Government s 2012 consultation Transforming Bailiff Action, reforms and new legislation came into effect on 6 April Bailiffs were replaced by Enforcement Agents and three sets of regulations were made 1. The Taking Control of Goods Regulations The Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations The Certification of Enforcement Agents Regulations Those regulations formalised specific safeguards for debtors whilst ensuring that public bodies can collect their debts fairly. It should be noted that the safeguards were already built into the Council s Service Level Agreements with external service providers. The regulations also gave greater transparency to the fees charged. There has been a smooth transition into the new procedures with no real issues arising in the first year. The majority of customers are responding at the Compliance stage and entering into payment arrangements with the Enforcement Agents and therefore avoiding the need to move to the Enforcement stage and incur further costs. 57. Insolvency legislation is changing from 1 October 2015 when the minimum debt level for taking bankruptcy action will increase from 750 (which has been the minimum debt level since 1986) to 5,000. The maximum debt level for Debt Relief Orders increases from 15,000 to 20,000 on the same date. The increase in the minimum debt level for taking bankruptcy action will impact on Council Tax and Business Rates recovery in that debts owed by those defaulters, against whom other enforcement remedies are not appropriate or have proved unsuccessful, may be parked until such time as the amount of debt outstanding will enable bankruptcy action to be taken. The increase in the maximum debt level for Debt Relief Orders will widen the scope for those most in need to be relieved of their indebtedness. 58. The Council s upgraded financials system went live in August 2014, including the Accounts Receivable invoiced debtors system. Most of the issues that impacted on debt recovery have been resolved, and the Council is starting on Phase 2 of the implementation project. Phase 2 includes ireceivables (customer self-service) to enable customers to view and pay their invoices online, and paperless direct debit to allow customers to set up direct debit payments over the phone and online. We are now also able to offer customers two direct debit instalment dates each month, rather than just the one offered previously. 59. The Recovery Manager has delivered a series of training sessions with Local Services Teams to give an overview of the Corporate Debt Recovery Policy, including the requirement to obtain payments up front where possible for Debt Recovery Update Page 11 of 13

12 goods and services supplied by the Council, and to ensure that the Council raises invoices effectively with the aim of preventing unnecessary debts accruing. 60. The Benefit Overpayment Team is still undertaking a targeting initiative to improve collection rates and raise the public profile and awareness of benefit overpayment recovery. Fraudulent overpayments are being reviewed with a view to putting cases before the County Court and secure Judgements against those debtors who refuse to engage in repayment negotiations. 61. The Benefit Overpayment Team continue to target overpayments created inyear, particularly those created as part of the new RTI* initiative. This is to maximise recovery at the earliest possible opportunity and avoid it becoming old debt which is harder to recover. *RTI is Real Time Information which is downloaded directly from HMRC and includes information on occupational pensions and/or earnings. This initiative has increased the workload as overpayments are now identified where the claimant has failed to inform the Council. As a result of the increase in workload the Benefit Overpayment Team are recruiting an additional Overpayments Officer (fixed term initially) to improve recovery rates. 62. Deferred Payments Agreements - sections 34 and 35 of The Care Act 2014 came into force in April 2015 and is currently being implemented). Implications Policy Finance and value for money Legal Procurement Human Resources Property Equalities (Impact Assessment attached) Debts are followed up in line with the agreed Council policies and as set out in the Council s Finance and Contract rules. By improving the robustness of debt recovery, the Council will improve its cash flow, and reduce the risk of a need to write off outstanding amounts. None None None None All debt recovery policies and the procedures they use have been subject to an equality impact assessment. Yes N/A No Risk Assessment Risks relating to the non-recovery of debt are picked up within the relevant area s service plan. In addition, the risk assessments carried out in relation to the budget process highlight such areas and identify the appropriate controls. Budget risk assessments are carried out on an annual basis. Debt Recovery Update Page 12 of 13

13 Crime & Disorder Customer Considerations Consultation Carbon reduction Wards Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 has been considered, and no implications have been identified. Applying a more holistic approach and methodology to debt collection will ensure that all debtors and taxpayers are treated in a consistent manner. Timely recovery of debts ensures a more effective use of public money. None None All Consultation Not applicable Background Papers: Corporate Debt Recovery Policy Cabinet 9 June 2015: Write Offs Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee 28 April 2015: Annual Complaints Report 2014 Report sign off Finance Officer Monitoring Officer/Legal Human Resources Procurement I.T. Executive Director Portfolio Holder(s) CL LH AE TP NA SM DL Author and Contact Details Susan Mounsey Revenues and Customer Contact Manager (01670) Debt Recovery Update Page 13 of 13

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