Refuse charge defaulters to be pursued

Pledge as Cork Council advised to ‘write off’ €1.5m as uncollectable

A private debt collection company has advised Cork County Council to ‘write off’ as uncollectable around €1.5m in refuse charges.

But thousands of householders who failed to pay the charges are not out of the woods yet.

Council chiefs yesterday warned they “will exhaust all feasible avenues for recovery of the arrears”.

The local authority had hired Stubbs Gazette in the spring of 2013 to collect €1.8m owed by 6,800 defaulters who, at one time, had been customers of the council’s refuse service.

The county council, left with the outstanding debt, sold the service in 2010 to a private company, Country Clean.

Former county manager Martin Riordan controversially decided last year to engage Stubbs Gazette to collect the debts.

At the time, several councillors voiced concern about the move, many saying it was heavy-handed.

They were also annoyed the Irish Examiner had published details of the move before they were informed by council management.

Councillors also believed Stubbs Gazette would publish, in its magazine, the names of the defaulters.

However, in December last, a spokeswoman for the company said it never had any intention of publishing the names.

It was also revealed Stubbs Gazette had managed to collect just €296,000 of the debt. It had advised the local authority almost €1.5m outstanding was uncollectable.

The council said it would continue to pursue the estimated 6,000 defaulters.

The company said it would offer “phased payment plans” to householders but admitted it was “likely that some residual debt will have to be written off”.

Cllr Tim Lombard (FG) welcomed the executive decision, saying the cash-strapped local authority could not afford to write-off €1.5m.

He said the uncollected money was badly needed and could be used to prop up several programmes.

“We could do an awful lot with that kind of money. We need that type of cash to help with a housing building programme or for housing maintenance.

“We could also buy a lot of tar to fill in all the potholes we have, or develop amenities for the public. The list is endless,” Cllr Lombard said.

He also said it seemed it was “in hindsight, unhelpful to have brought in Stubbs to collect the debt”.

“In future, we have to put in place a policy on how we deal with all forms of debt.”

The councillor said he was surprised the local authority’s own staff had not been tasked with trying to recover the money, despite staff numbers having been depleted in recent years.

“We have the expertise in the council to do this. Our rates department is extremely successful in dealing with debt, so much so that we secure an average of 97% of all the commercial rates owed yearly,” Cllr Lombard said.

“I honestly don’t think the collection of the refuse charges owed should have been outsourced in the first place.

“The council is now looking at phased repayments and that has happened with some commercial rates in the past,” he added.


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