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pounds 16m.

A council which has set aside pounds 16m to cover bad debts has agreed a new scheme to improve collections.

One proposal is a clampdown on council tax dodgers.

Bad debt provision by Newcastle City Council includes pounds 5m for unpaid council tax bills and pounds 4m for council house rents.

Another pounds 2m is set aside for business rate debts though this burden falls on the Government not local taxpayers.

Senior officials say the amount of debt changes throughout the year and the final figure will not be known until the end of March.

Meanwhile, a new policy has been drawn up to ensure the council manages debt effectively and that money is paid promptly.

This is in response to a report from the Government spending watchdog, the Audit Commission, on debt and income management.

Debts are only written off when money is uncollectable, for example when people cannot be traced, when the costs of collection would be too high or when people have died.

The new policy was agreed at a meeting of the council's controlling Liberal Democrat executive.

Resources spokesman Coun Peter Allen said: "The council takes the issue of bad debt very seriously.

"It is sensible practice to set aside money to cover these debts, in this case pounds 16m.

"But we use a range of methods to pursue bad debt until it becomes uneconomical or impossible to recover it as when the debtor dies.

"The bad debt policy is part of the process to reduce the amount of debt owing to the council.

"One of the budget proposals we plan to consult on later this month is clamping down on those who are not paying the full amount of council tax they are eligible to pay." Officials say the council's policy is to recover all collectable debt.

City treasurer Paul Woods said: "The aim is to ensure that a clear framework is in place which sets out the approach, principles and strategy within which all income management activities will be carried out."

The idea is to make it easier for people to make payments, improve income, reduce the time taken to collect debts, reduce the level of debt and tackle the perception that debt cannot be collected.

A council spokesman said: "The bad debt provision is the amount of money the council sets aside to cover potential bad debts.

"It is reviewed periodically and published in the accounts every year.

"The amount of debt outstanding varies throughout the year as debts are collected and new debts are raised.

"The bad debt figures will be amended by March 31, 2006, and then published."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 4, 2006
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