Agenda item

Call ins - Corporate Debt Strategy

Items called in from the Cabinet meeting of <DATE>

 

(Please bring the Cabinet agenda for <DATE> previously circulated to Members).

Minutes:

Further to minute 15 (Cabinet 29.06.2020) Cabinet made an executive decision (reference 14/C/2020) with regard to the Corporate Debt Strategy which was called in for scrutiny by this Committee.

The Committee was presented with a report which sought Cabinets agreement to endorse the principles of the Corporate Debt Strategy (attached in full at appendix two to the report) and asked Cabinet to note the Vulnerable Persons Policy and Vulnerable Persons Assistance Groups documents that accompanied the strategy (attached in full at appendices three and four).

 

Cabinet had resolved that:

·         the principles of the Corporate Debt Strategy across the Council as set out in appendix two to the report be endorsed

·         the supplementary information on Vulnerable Persons as set out in appendices 3 & 4 to the report that accompanies the Corporate Debt Strategy be noted

The Director (Corporate Services) introduced the report informing Members of the Corporate Debt Working Group and the development of the Corporate Debt Strategy. The Strategy was also submitted to the Performance & Administration Cabinet Committee where it was discussed in detail and amended before being submitted to Cabinet where it received executive approval.

The Chair thanked the Director (Corporate Services) for her introduction and asked her to further elaborate on the recovery process, how officers engaged with residents in debt and the methodology used by officers to determine if a resident was choosing not to pay or physically couldn’t make the payments due to extenuating circumstances.  

The Director (Corporate Services) further explained the process behind debt recovery and she drew attention to the following:

·         Before any formal action is taken, an informal route is followed once a resident has missed their first payment; an informal reminder will be sent to the resident informing them of the payment they missed. During the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the difficult situations many residents faced, it was intended to issue ‘soft reminders’ before the recovery process was started, encouraging those owing monies to the Council to actively make contact and enter into a dialogue regarding payment. 

·         Following the informal reminder if no further engagement was received from the resident or they were clearly demonstrating no intention to pay the money owed then they were formally followed up through the debt recovery process

·         Where officers have information on certain resident’s situations, they will take that into account when dealing with any missed payments and work towards a solution that works best for the resident and the Council. A number of options are available to assist residents struggling with debt; the Council can issue a variety of payment methods to suit the resident’s situation such as a payment instalment plan or an arrangement to pay their most recent arrears off first. The Council regularly reviews its available payment methods. 

·         In addition to support with payments, officers will also review the resident’s situation and offer advice or signpost them to organisations such as Citizens Advice that offer specialised advice for different debts and how to prioritise debt repayments. Officers will also highlight to the resident any entitlements or benefits that they may be entitled to but weren’t previously aware of or have not claimed

·         A cornerstone of the Strategy was to create a consistent approach to debt recovery across the Council to ensure officers acted fairly and equally with all Council customers to maximise collection rates and reduce bad debts where possible. In certain cases, the Council would look to combine resident’s debts to ensure that the resident only had one point of contact. That single point of contact allowed residents to deal with all of their debt through one process instead of having to repeat assessments or conversations with numerous officers.

Members of the Overview Scrutiny Committee thoroughly scrutinised the information contained in the report and had their questions, comments and concerns answered or addressed by the Director (Corporate Services).

The Committee made several recommendations: 

·         The report had already been submitted to the Performance& Administration Cabinet Committee prior to its submission and subsequent approval from Cabinet. The report was discussed at length at the Performance & Administration Cabinet Committee meeting and several amendments were made by the Committee. In future, to ensure the Overview Scrutiny Committee was fully apprised of previous discussions and agreements the minutes of the relevant Cabinet Committee meeting should be attached to the Call In pack within the agenda

·         As part of the social media campaign, to spread awareness and advise the public of the Corporate Debt Strategy Member should be included as many requests for help were received through social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger. The Chair requested that Members were sent the relevant links to direct members of the public to if they had a Council debt issue and to reemphasis to Members who the main officer point of contact was for when a resident reached that stage of the debt recovery process

·         An email to be circulated to Members with the Corporate Debt Strategy attached and an explanation of the stages of the Corporate Debt Process

The Chair agreed that the minutes of the Performance & Administration Cabinet Committee should have been included and promised to submit any relevant minutes to Called In decisions in the future.

Following a suggestion by a Member, the Chair invited Cllr John Burden to speak as the relevant Cabinet Member and the Leader of the Executive regarding the proposed suggestion to the report.

Cllr John Burden addressed the Committee explaining that the report had already been through the full democratic process, debated at length several times by Members and approved by Cabinet. Cllr John Burden felt that the report shouldn’t have been called in but advised Members that he had listened intently to the suggestions and they would be considered. Although Cllr John Burden stated that it was unlikely anything would change as the report had already been through the democratic process but the suggestions could be considered further at the time of the next review of the Corporate Debt Strategy.

The Chair responded to Cllr John Burden regarding his decision to call in the Corporate Debt Strategy.

The Chair thanked the Director (Corporate Services) and the Leader for their comments.

Resolved that the Overview Scrutiny Committee:

·         Noted the Corporate Draft Strategy and the Cabinet decision and further requested that the Cabinet Member reflected upon the above-mentioned recommendations of the Committee

 

Supporting documents: