March 14, 2023 6.00 pm This story is over 15 months old

The £20m of unpaid debt Lincolnshire councils are missing out on

About £9million less than than previous five years

Councils in Greater Lincolnshire have missed out on over £20 million of uncollected debt over the past five years.

However, data collected by The Lincolnite shows that the amount owed to authorities has decreased by more than £9million in recent years.

Freedom of Information requests asked for all uncollected debt across the five years 2018-2022.

At least £20,436,099 is currently owed.

This is about £9,342,750 less than the £29,778,849 owed over the previous five years 2013-2018 which the LDR service covered in August 2018.

Some councils’ figures, including North East Lincolnshire and North Kesteven, were incomplete, particularly around figures for 2022/23, meaning the actual total will be higher.

The data supplied shows that, at district level, Lincoln (£2,954,804.77), South Kesteven (£2,864,754.85) and Boston (£1,846,649.34) council’s have wiped off the most debt.

However, in most instances the figures are still lower than the previous five years.

The only authority to see an increase was West Lindsey whose debt had more than doubled to £1,101,821.11.

Among the top reasons for debt write-offs was ratepayers being unable to be traced. In Lincoln, this amounted to £523,374.15 of council tax and £106,770.70 of business rates.

Other reasons included insolvency, the death of the debtor or the authority considering the debt to be “uneconomical” to collect.

Jaclyn Gibson, Chief Finance Officer at City of Lincoln Council, said the authority collected around £120million a year but only kept a “very small proportion” due to the majority going to central government, Lincolnshire County Council and the Police & Crime Commissioner for Lincolnshire.

She said that over five years that figure would total more than £600m and that write-offs across the above areas totaled £2.173m – less than 0.5%.

“The council strives to maintain high collection rates, despite the impact of Covid and the cost of living challenge,” she said.

“All amounts owed to the council are considered recoverable and it will make all necessary efforts to collect monies due.”

She said in the “limited circumstances” when debt was written off the council could seek to collect the outstanding amounts if new information came to light.

The South East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership, which includes East Lindsey District Council, Boston Borough Council, and South Holland District Council, have issued a joint response.

Finance portfolio holders Councillors Richard Fry,  Jonathan Noble and Peter Coupland said: “Whilst we do occasionally have to write-off some debts that are owed to us, which are accrued over a number of years, we will only ever do this as a last resort when all other collection options have been exhausted and there is no realistic prospect of recovery.

“These debts can still be resurrected in full or in part at any time should new information come to light suggesting that they might be recoverable after all.”

In East Lindsey £418million was collected in council tax and business rates in 2018-2022 – meaning only 0.17% of debt was written off.

In Boston, the figure was £209million (0.6% of debt) and in South Holland it was almost £300 milion (0.1% debt).

In West Lindsey district Council, a spokesperson said: “[The council] reviews debts regularly as part of our policies and procedures.

“We only seek to write off debt with members approval once we have exhausted all other options of collecting the debt.

“We encourage people to contact us as at the earliest opportunity if they are struggling to pay their debts.”

The two northern unitaries lost a total of £9,096,153.52, with North East Lincolnshire writing off £4,477,398.67 and North Lincolnshire £4,618,754.85.

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