SOMERSET Council is owed more than £50,000 in overdue library fines.

The unitary authority manages 34 libraries, which offer an extensive collection of books, films and digital products to more than 103,000 registered users.

Users can borrow books, audio books and DVDs for free, but the council applies overdue fees when items are returned late without a renewal being agreed.

A freedom of information request has revealed the council is owed £50,469.15 for bills listed as overdue, which cover 21,099 items.

Money it receives from fines are used to help fund the library service.

In 2022, Somerset County Council – the predecessor of the unitary authority – received £43,222.50 in library fines. 

This fell to £37,167 in 2023 (until December 28).

In January 2022, as library users returned after the pandemic, the county council scrapped fines and charges for 10 weeks to encourage people to reconnect with the services.

Outstanding and historic charges for all library users were also cleared with no questions asked during the same period.

Somerset County Gazette: Bridgwater Library on Binford Place.Bridgwater Library on Binford Place.

Seven months later, the authority permanently scrapped all charges to library users aged 17 and under, including fines for overdue items.

This led to a rise in the number of overdue bills being cancelled or forgiven. Across 2022 and 2023, this amounted to 13,121 bills.

However, the council has not suggested it plans to follow in the footsteps of other authorities, such as Monmouthshire County Council, Leeds City Council and North Tyneside Council, by getting rid of fines for all library users.

A spokesperson said: “Somerset Council has already scrapped fines for children, hence the relatively high waive figure in the FOI, as this includes the period the policy was changed.”

The authorities that have scrapped fines for all users say the decision will boost user numbers and lead to ‘missing’ books being returned.

In one case, a woman in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle, gave an overdue library book back in February 2023 under an “amnesty” – 56 years after she borrowed it.

Lesley Harrison was 14 when she borrowed Ich Lerne Deutsch while studying for a German O-Level at her grammar school in 1966.

It should have been handed back within 21 days, but it instead followed her through several house moves during her career as a civil servant.

The BBC reported she would have been owed more than £2,000 had North Tyneside Council not abolished late return fees a year earlier.