Bexley Council has decided to restart all of its debt collection processes as it tries to balance the books post Covid-19.

The council opted to suspend all court action against outstanding debts at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, "recognising the increased financial pressures facing residents and businesses."

Now it has announced that it will recommence debt recovery for owed sundry debts, outstanding council tax, business rates and housing benefits overpayments, with councillors saying "now is the right time."

Bexley Council says it will pursue this in a proportionate and compassionate way, but has made the move in the face of balancing its own books post-Covid, and funding vital services.

During the pandemic, staffing resources usually working within debt recovery and other postponed areas were diverted to support residents and businesses, with the council paying out over £30 million through a government grant scheme.

For the past four months, staff involved in debt recovery have used evidence of income and expenditure to use their discretion over individual repayments.

The council say many businesses have received rates holiday during this time, while debtors have taken the opportunity of extended payment plans to help manage their finances. The council has also been encouraging them to claim help with their rent, Council Tax, or business grants, where they are eligible.

Now action to recover debts will recommence from August 24, meaning existing legal proceedings will continue, and the court may hear claims about sundry debts.

This include former tenancy arrears, vehicle crossover debts, contractual debts, road traffic, unpaid commercial rents, trade waste charges, adult social care debts, homecare and unpaid residential accommodation charges.

The council will also contact sundry debtors not yet in legal proceedings and will "consider the financial circumstances of each debtor, including the impact of the pandemic."

Debts will have continued to increase during the period when recovery was suspended, and the Council will seek to recover all the amounts owed.

Councillor David Leaf, Cabinet Member for Resources said: "Now is the right time for us to look at restarting our debt recovery.

"We know that many people face uncertainty and hardship and we will act in a proportionate and compassionate way, looking to help people experiencing difficulties with debts as early as possible.

"Like councils across the country, the pandemic has had an adverse effect on our own already stretched budgets and we need to address this so we can invest in vital frontline services."

He added: "There is still the extra support to help households on low incomes by reducing their Council Tax bills and the vital support we have been getting to local businesses will be welcome at this difficult and uncertain time.

"I encourage anyone experiencing hardship or worrying about their finances to seek help, advice and support.”

Bexley Citizens Advice Bureau is an independent charity that provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to help people resolve their legal, money, debt, benefit, employment, housing, consumer, discrimination and other issues.

Advice is available online or you can speak to one of CAB’s advisers directly by calling 01322 517 150 or completing their online form.

The Council provides funding for Bexley Citizens Advice’s general advice and specialist debt advice services.