Merton Council

Home Home Merton Adult Education Home Home Jobs in children's social care Home Merton Means Business Home Wandle Valley Low Carbon Zone Home Safeguarding Children Board
How do I contact my councillor?

Agenda item

Update on debt and the use of the specialist debt review company


The Chair invited Michael Turner, Policy and Strategy Manager at Merton Centre for Independent Living (Merton CIL), to address the task group. Merton CLI is a pan-disability user-led deaf and disabled people’s organisation that provides advisory and advocacy services.


Michael Turner asked the council to take into consideration the individual situations and needs of people who owe money for social care services and the impact that being in debt may have on their health. He highlighted the requirements of the Care Act 2014 and the findings and recommendations of Merton CIL’s 2018 report “ choice, control and independent living: putting the Care Act into practice”.


Michael Turner said that Merton CIL was keen to work with the council to implement the report’s recommendations. He said that the recommendations on charging would help to prevent service users from incurring debt and that Merton CILs ultimate aim is to work towards social care being provided free at the point of use on the same basis as NHS services. He said that Hammersmith and Fulham Council does not charge for home care services.


Task group members agreed on the importance of the council working with Merton CIL to apply not just the rules but also the spirit of the Care Act.


The Director of Corporate Services, Caroline Holland, asked the task group to be mindful that some of the debt had been incurred before the Care Act was passed and that new cases are carefully reviewed by the council to make sure that the requirements of the Care Act has been taken into account.


The Head of Revenues and Benefits, David Keppler, introduced his report and explained the processes in relation to social care debt whereby each client is assessed at the entry point to receiving care, every effort is made to engage with the client to arrange for payment of debts, and assessment is made of individual circumstances prior to taking any legal action or passing the debt to an external company.


David Keppler said that the trial use of a specialist debt collection agency had been successful in collecting £272k out of the £1.8m debts passed to them,  that he was assessing the best approach to collecting similar debt in future and that he is currently in discussion about the feasibility of using a company to collect some of the housing benefit and other types of debt. He was satisfied that the debts that had been passed on were the most appropriate ones.


David Keppler and Caroline Holland provided additional information in response to questions from task group members:


·         A breakdown of the age of debts is provided in the quarterly report to the task group.

·         Social care debts are pursued in-house wherever possible. Older debts and those from deceased clients are passed to external solicitors where appropriate, following careful consideration of circumstances.

·         The introduction of Universal Credit and a number of associated initiatives to ensure that the correct level of payment is made has led to a reduction in housing benefit debt. Housing benefit debt is difficult to collect but there is a financial incentive provided by the government.

·         There does not appear to be a market for selling council debts to private companies – an inquiry at a Londonwide network recently produced just one company name.


David Keppler undertook to provide an update on discussions with the external company and in-house options for recouping some of the housing benefit debt in his next quarterly report. ACTION: Head of Revenues and Benefits





Supporting documents: