EAST Devon District Council is proposing to update its Corporate Debt Policy to ensure that procedures for dealing with people who owe the council money comply with the latest guidelines and regulations.

New measures could mean higher fees for people who fail to pay.

Among the recent changes are new regulations on Enforcement Agents (Bailiffs) that come into force on 6 April.

These and other more minor changes were accounted for in an updated policy presented to Cabinet last night (Wednesday 2 April).

A major reform to the way that Enforcement Agents (Bailiffs) operate from 6 April means that EDDC needed to review its Corporate Debt Policy.

Members on Wednesday agreed to delegate authority to the Head of Finance in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Finance to make amendments to the policy in time to meet the Government deadline.

The aim of the new laws is to introduce fresh measures that will remove ambiguity from the process and ensure that Enforcement Agents operate fairly for all concerned.

The Government’s new measures for collection of unpaid Council Tax or Business Rates mean the introduction of set stages and fees for enforcement. There are three stages that an Enforcement Agent will follow:

1. Compliance Stage. Once the Council passes a liability order to an enforcement agent the debtor will have to pay a fixed fee of £75 for each liability order. If the debtor cannot pay in full, a repayment plan should be set up. The enforcement agent will contact the debtor by phone or by letter, text or email. The aim is to avoid the agent needing to visit the debtor.

2. Enforcement Stage. Before an agent visits the debtor they must send them a letter giving seven clear days to pay or set up a repayment plan. If a visit is necessary after that time, there is a further fixed fee of £235 plus 7.5% for any balance over £1,500, making a total of at least £310.

3. Sale or Disposal Stage. If the previous two stages fail, the agent may take control of the debtor’s goods. There will then be an extra fee of £110 plus 7.5% of any balance due. There may be other costs for goods to be sold.

To ensure that people who may owe money to the council are aware of these new arrangements and higher fees, EDDC will shortly be embarking on a publicity campaign.

Councillor David Cox, EDDC’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “The collection of debts is a very delicate and sensitive area. We don’t want to come down hard on anyone – but it’s only fair on the majority of people who do pay their way that we have robust procedures for dealing with people who refuse to comply. The aims of our policy still remain the same in trying to work with customers at the very earliest stage and find ways of helping people who are genuinely struggling with their finances.

“This was reflected in a 2013 survey, which showed that EDDC had the lowest percentage of debt cases referred to bailiffs in proportion to the number of households in the district”.