Local authorities should ensure they have a ‘fair and accurate way to deal with council tax debt collection’ if they are to ‘significantly reduce their arrears situation’, according to a new comment piece by Agilisys.
Referring to a recent report, which revealed changes to the law covering enforcement agents in England and Wales introduced in April 2014 are failing to protect people in financial difficulty from unfair treatment, the article proposes that data should be used to accurately identify those who can’t pay and those who won’t pay.
“More often than not, those that ‘can’t pay’ are processed for court and enforcement action as well as those that won’t pay,” the article states.
“Local authorities working with Credit Reference Agencies are able to access data, often at a cost, which helps them to separate the ‘can’t pays’ from the ‘won’t pays’, but they rarely have the resources or strategy teams to make best use of that data.
“As a result, all council tax payers are generally taken through the same process regardless of their circumstances, and as we know that ‘one size fits all approach’ rarely works.”
A fairer approach
As a result, Agilisys suggests that a fairer approach is needed that goes beyond simply focusing on debt collection.
“Those that ‘can’t pay’ need a different approach altogether. They need debt advice, sustainable repayment plans put in place, and an understanding of the financial strain that they are under.
“Local authorities are increasingly looking at ways in which they can introduce better collection practices. Some councils use private sector collections agencies like Agilisys, who will ask debtors about their financial situation, check they are claiming all assistance available to them and refer them for free debt advice. By implementing fairer and more accurate approaches to collecting debt, councils have significantly reduced their arrears situation.”
The article concluded: “Even simple steps, like improving communication and offering a realistic repayment plan, can ease the strain on debtors and ensure councils get what they’re owed.”
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