£500,000 in benefit payments lost
TOWN chiefs today vowed to get tough with tax and benefit cheats after it emerged more than £500,000 in bad debt had been written off this year.In total debts worth £511,397 were written off by Ipswich Borough Council last month, prior to the end of the financial year.
TOWN chiefs today vowed to get tough with tax and benefit cheats after it emerged more than £500,000 in bad debt had been written off this year.
In total debts worth £511,397 were written off by Ipswich Borough Council last month, prior to the end of the financial year.
The debts, which dated back several years, were made up of £218,738 in unpaid council tax and £292,659 of housing benefit overpayments.
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Town leaders say the situation has improved in recent years thanks to a concerted effort to chase up council tax dodgers and reclaim benefit overpayments.
John Carnall, responsible for finance at the council, said the tough approach would continue.
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He said: “We raise about £49million in council tax in a year and this write-off is about 0.44 per cent so it is quite small.
“We aim to collect 99.5pc of council tax each year and we have achieved it for that year.
“This administration puts a great deal of emphasis on the importance of debt collection and making sure people pay.
“We compare pretty well with other authorities and are in the top half of the table for collection rates among authorities in the eastern region.
“We try to collect these debts pretty rigorously.”
Bad debts are written off in a number of circumstances, including when legal action fails, when a debtor dies or when repeated attempts to recover the money fail.
Mr Carnall said that the council is also working hard to recover housing benefit overpayments paid to people in Ipswich.
He said that this situation arises either because the wrong information has been provided to the council or, due to mistakes within the authority, residents are given more than they should.
“Our performance here is improving because we are cutting down on local authority error,” he said.
“Many of the overpayments are made because inaccurate information is provided to us but some are the result of errors made by us.
“We are all human at the end of the day.”
Mr Carnall pointed to figures showing that overpayment error made by the council had reduced from 1.3pc in 2006/07 to 0.48pc in 2007/08 as evidence that performance has “really improved”.
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