Leeds: ‘More debt collectors to reduce write-offs’

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Calls have been made for Leeds City Council to hire more debt collectors - and tighten up its rent gathering procedures - after it emerged that almost a million pounds owed to the public purse has been wiped in the past 12 months.

New figures reveal the authority has written off more than £245,000 of uncollected rent from council housing tenants in the first quarter of this year.

The money, some of it historic, represents uncollected rents owed on 475 accounts.

In the last financial year, meanwhile, the total write-off of arrears was almost 
£900,000 relating to 1,810 accounts.

A report detailing the latest round of write-offs says: “Continued recovery action in respect of irrecoverable debts would result in the council expending further resources, which does not represent value for money.

“The outstanding amounts are deemed irrecoverable and consequently the debts proposed to be written off.”

However councillor Barry Anderson, shadow communities spokesman for the Conservative group on the council, said: “People will be astonished to learn of the huge amounts of rent the council fails to collect, at a time when council budgets are very tight.

“I urge the council to redouble its efforts to ensure that such large sums of money are not simply written-off but are instead collected for the benefit of the public purse.

“One possible measure the council could look at is employing more collection staff to ensure that as much rent as possible is collected.”

Coun Anderson added: “Ultimately this money will get reinvested on council housing.”

The council’s total rent and service charge bill for all its properties during 2015/2016 was £219m.

The total former tenant debt still being processed was around £3.3million.

A Leeds City Council spokesperson said:“In 2015/16 we collected approximately £219 million in rent and service charges for all council properties in the city.

“We’ll only write off any outstanding debt due to rent arrears of former tenants when every viable recovery option has been exhausted.

“There are a variety of reasons why debts may be written off.

“These include former tenants having died or not been traced, having no assets, are bankrupt or debt collectors have judged the debt irrecoverable.

“The council will never write off rent arrears on current tenancies, and we will use every tool at our disposal working closely with our tenants and taking into account their personal circumstances, to ensure that a plan is put in place to recover the debt.”