Help for those who can’t pay, action against those who won’t
A promise of support for those struggling to pay their bills but firm action against those refusing to pay has been made by Gravesham Borough Council as it seeks to keep the amount of money it is owed to a minimum.
With a significant amount of the money needed to maintain essential frontline services coming from Council Tax, business rates, council house rent and parking charges and fines, the council has set out plans to ensure it follows a consistent, fair and sensitive approach to collecting debt, while ensuring the maximum amount possible is recovered.
“With the financial impact of the Coronavirus lockdown hitting families and individuals hard, we understand that many people are finding themselves in financial hardship and, possibly for the first time in their lives, are struggling to find the money to pay their bills,” said Cllr John Burden, Leader of Gravesham Borough Council.
“It has had an effect on the council too, with unpaid council tax, rents and business rates, and a loss of several months of income from our car parks and parking permit schemes contributing to a significant shortfall in our budgets.
“COVID aside, it is always an aim to keep the level of debt to a minimum and to work with those who need our support to help them pay their bills.”
The council recognises that some of its customers do not pay their debts for a variety of reasons.
For those who have difficulty in making payment, the council will try to help by providing advice on the methods of payment available; entering into a payment arrangement; or helping customers obtain the correct benefit and debt management advice to help them pay their bills.
Cllr Burden added: “We also understand that some vulnerable people will need additional support in dealing with their financial affairs and we have policies in place to ensure such cases are handled sensitively and responsibly.”
The council has adopted a Vulnerable Persons Policy which, while accepting there is no set definition of a vulnerable person, does set out what the council will do to support a resident where vulnerability has been identified.
That includes working with them to agree the best method of recovering outstanding arrears and the best way for the individual to pay them; carefully considering each case where vulnerability has been identified before taking any recovery action; adapting the recovery process to minimise hardship or distress; and clearly explaining decisions regarding its actions.
Cllr Burden added: “We are not in the business of causing unnecessary anxiety or distress for people who find themselves in a difficult position and we will work with them to find a solution that works for all.”
But he had a warning for those who actively sought to avoid paying their debts: “We make a clear distinction between those who can’t pay and those who won’t pay.
“Those who can’t pay can be assured they will receive our full support and help to meet their responsibilities.
“Those who won’t pay, who think they can get something for nothing and who refuse to engage with us, can be certain we will pursue all legal remedies to recover the money they owe us.
“Non-payment of fees and charges means the council has less money to deliver essential services to everyone, including those who are playing by the rules and paying their bills on time. We have a duty to all to ensure debts are recovered and services supported.”