Deputy Leader – Finance and Investment
Strategic Directors, Commissioning and Enabling
Contact: Lynette Peters, Lead Commissioner, Financial Resilience; 020 7926 6394; email@example.com
(Report 14/15-177) (Key decision)
The Deputy Leader of the Council (Finance and Investment) introduced the report:
· The report made the important point that debt/arrears collection is essential to maintaining the services of the council, but balanced to ensure people can pay this debt, whilst helping those who cannot. It was reiterated that it had been produced cooperatively with input from debtors, debt agencies, council teams and Members. 8 principles drive fairness in all council’s debt collection procedures and that it had been compiled in plain English to allow access to all persons. The nine actions of Principle 8 (‘identifying and supporting vulnerable debtors’) were highlighted as well argued and tested, so it was the responsibility of officers that these principles were upheld.
Cabinet Members made the following comments:
· The Cabinet Member for Children and Adult Social Care praised the report, asking that the presentation principles used be applied to all bills; and praised the use of texting (SMS) as a useful method of contact. The Member also raised the issue of vulnerable tenants, who through care bills form a large part of Lambeth’s debt collection, and this process would need to be improved. She also noted that ideas about home visits were good, but that social care needed to be flagged beforehand and bills dealt with earlier, not just through enforcement letters. It was noted that for some of the community’s vulnerable persons, these bills can often be the tip over the edge.
· The Cabinet Member for Housing welcomed the report and remarked on the difference between fraud and avoiding payment, and highlighted page 99 of the agenda following the consequences of benefit and taxation changes under the incumbent Government.
· The Leader of the Council drew attention to the initial pilot from last year which worked out this excellent approach. The report author further noted different colours or fonts used in forms in randomised control trials (RCTs), to see what worked, specifically the placement of the total amount in top right improving payment (up by 8% for payments on time); and the council was now using these combined improvements across council, whilst further RCTs had been continued this year and in other documentation.
· Councillor McGlone observed that the behavioural insights testing was so successful that other councils were copying the approach; initial studies indicated that this alone could increase revenue collection by £1m/year for the council, just through more effective communication.
· The Strategic Director of Commissioning mentioned that for adult social care bills, the way in which this is done is set out in law, but processed by the council with sensitivity and by not engaging debt collection agencies unnecessarily. It was important that vulnerable people receiving social care are not billed, as this could be the tip over the edge. The process around people in receipt is done carefully, but to have persons outside social care treated in same way was welcomed.
· The Leader of the Council praised the report’s clarity of thought and presentation; noting that it would be useful to base all future reports on a similar blueprint.
That the Income and Debt Recover Strategy be agreed.