Lincoln council ‘pursued £600m of debt relentlessly’

The leader of the City of Lincoln council has said the authority does ‘extremely well’ in collecting its debt despite the difficult economic circumstances of many of its residents.

The comments follow a recent Freedom of Information request which revealed that councils across Greater Lincolnshire have missed out on £30 million in taxes, business rates, rents and other debts over the past five years.

Lincoln held the third highest amount in Lincolnshire at £3,351,924, however, city council leader Ric Metcalfe has now told Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Jaines that in that same period, the authority had managed to collect £600 million in debt – including council tax, business rates and rent.

He said the uncollected debt only reflected a snapshot of 0.5%.

“That doesn’t underestimate its importance, because it’s important to the council that we collect every penny we can, for fairness to other people who are paying, and being able to finance the services we are running.”

He added that the council ‘pursues debt relentlessly’, with a collection team who had been in the role a number of years and who had a ‘very good rate of return’.

However, he said care needed to be taken when comparing Lincoln to other district councils due to economic differences.

“The thing to keep in mind about some element of our debt is people’s ability to pay.

“Lincoln city is a much poorer place than for example North Kesteven District where people are generally much better off; they have better incomes, they’re much more able to meet their debt obligations than many poorer people are here in Lincoln.

“So we need to be careful about comparing like with like. In Lincoln, with some people being in difficult economic circumstances, we actually do extremely well in achieving the collection rates that we do,” he added.

The Freedom of Information request to the seven district councils in Lincolnshire and the unitary authorities of North and North East Lincolnshire revealed the total amount written off by councils between 2013-2018 was £29,778,849.

Across the seven Lincolnshire districts, the figure totalled more than £17,178,066. The top three authorities to write off debt were South Kesteven District Council (£3,704,785), Boston Borough Council (£3,513,602) and City of Lincoln Council (£3,351,924).

The two unitary authorities split their £12,600,782 total between them at £6,759.864 (North East Lincolnshire) and £5,840,918 (North Lincolnshire).

The debts include rent arrears, housing benefit overpayments, business rates and council tax. They can be written off for a variety of reasons, including insolvency, death and the authority being unable to trace the debtor.

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