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Council writes off business rate debt worth more than £364k

Business rate debts totalling more than £364,000 are being written off by Cannock Chase Council after being deemed “irrecoverable”.

Cannock Chase District Council

Cabinet members also agreed to write off nine housing benefit overpayments totalling £44,496.81 and three council tax debts totalling £11,248.69.

But council leader Tony Johnson stressed that all reasonable and lawful attempts had been made to recover the money. Speaking at Thursday’s cabinet meeting (February 29), he added: “We don’t write these off lightly.

“The actions we take on enforcement and recovery cost the council money. It’s only when the cost exceeds the value of the debt that we ask to write it off – and if anybody does rear their head (in the future) we do pursue them, whether it’s for business rates or council tax.”

A report to Thursday’s cabinet meeting said: “Unfortunately, legislation does not currently permit access to DWP or HMRC records to trace council tax debtors or their employers, though a Cabinet Office project is currently reviewing this.

“Data protection legislation allows us to receive information as to a debtor’s whereabouts but we cannot disclose information to other creditors. Reciprocal arrangements with utility companies and similar are not therefore workable.”

The council’s latest Revenues and Benefits Collection Report, covering the period between October and December, showed an improvement in the level of council tax collected compared to the same period in 2022/23 however. By the end of December 2023 81.6% of council tax for 2023/24 had been collected – up from 80/5% at the end of December 2022.

The level of business rates collected by the end of December was 80.1% – a decrease compared to the 81% collected by the end of December 2022. The report said: “The reasons for this are related to activity in September 2022, which boosted the collection rate in that and subsequent months.

“Government-funded rate relief known as Covid Additional Relief Funding (CARF) was applied to a number of rate accounts in September 2022. This had the effect of reducing the collectable debit by 1.7% and so increasing the collection rate by a similar amount.

“Had this not happened our December 2023 year performance would have been better than last year, as has been the case throughout the year.”

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