Council still owed €3m despite employing debt firm

Refuse charge defaulters still owe Cork County Council over €3m in unpaid bills — despite the local authority employing a private debt collection agency to help recover the arrears.

The monies have been outstanding from thousands of former customers after the council sold off its refuse service to Country Clean in Sept 2010.

It emerged the council was still owed €3,377,317 at the end of last year, despite collecting €67,000 itself.

In January, however, it decided to hand over some of the outstanding accounts to debt collectors Stubbs Gazette.

According to a council spokesman, 6,800 accounts — worth an estimated €1.8m — were handed over to the well-known debt collection firm.

Up until yesterday, Stubbs Gazette had collected around €250,000.

County manager Martin Riordan again defended the decision to bring in the outside agency to collect the outstanding monies.

Questions were raised by some members at a Cork County Council meeting in County Hall yesterday about the success, or not, of engaging the debt collection company.

A council spokesman confirmed €250,000 had been recouped by the firm to date.

However, it remains unclear what Stubbs Gazette receives on commission for its services.

Last February — shortly after the Irish Examiner revealed the company was being employed by the council — Mr Riordan said that he couldn’t comment on the commission because the deal was “commercially sensitive information”.

Fine Gael councillor John O’Sullivan claimed the council should have done more to collect the money itself.

He maintained the council should had written to all defaulters warning them their bills were about to be handed to a private debt-collection agency.

“If the council entered into some negotiations with them, maybe even offering a discount for prompt payment, we might have recouped more than we are doing now because obviously we have to pay commission to Stubbs Gazette,” said the Courtmacsherry-based councillor.

In his opinion, he said the council should never again employ a private debt collection agency. “It’s absolutely farcical and it should never be repeated.”

Mr Riordan said, unlike the local property tax, the council was not imposing interest and penalty charges on what was owed by the refuse charge defaulters.

Council officials said the local authority would have been criticised by householders who had paid the refuse charges if County Hall did not pursue defaulters.


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