Council to write off £40,000 debts – and most is housing benefit overpayments

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Hartlepool Civic Centre.

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COUNCILLORS have agreed to write off over £40,000 of debts owing to the authority it has been unable to recover.

The biggest proportion of the debts – more than £32,000 – relate to housing benefit overpayments.

Hartlepool Borough Council pays out about £48m to around 11.5000 households in Hartlepool on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions.

In the financial year 2013-14 the council overpaid £937,000 in housing benefit and recovered £859,000.

In a report, Chris Little, the council’s chief financial officer said delays in the council being informed of changes in claimants’ circumstances resulted in households receiving more than they were entitled to at the time.

Mr Little stated: “By their nature, recovery of housing benefit overpayment is challenging.

“The council continues and will seek to avoid hardship by negotiating realistic and affordable repayments.

“Repayment in some instances will take a number of years which increases the risk of non-collection.”

He added the amount of money that the council had overpaid had fallen by 17 per cent this year compared to 2012-13.

People still receiving housing benefit pay any overpayment back to the council at a rate of £10.95 or £18.25 a week.

Other sundry debts over three months old, where the debtor has absconded, died or cannot pay for some other reason, have also been written out of the council’s accounts. They totalled £8,493.42.

Mr Little added in his report: “Whilst the council continues to vigorously pursue recovery there are some sundry debts that become irrecoverable.”

Members of the council’s Finance and Policy Committee agreed to write the debts totalling £41,453.82 out of the council’s accounts in order to balance the books for auditors.