FIFE Council have written off more than £5.7 million in bad debts in 2017-18.

And they reckon the situation “will only get worse” as residents struggle to cope with changes to the benefits system.

Figures show Scotland’s third-largest local authority wrote off £5.758m in comparison to £7.439m in 2016-17. Bad debts they have “no realistic hope” of recovering consists of council tax, non-domestic rates, sundry debtors and rental income.

Les Robertson, revenue services manager, said: “The council actively pursues the collection of debt, however debt write off is unavoidable and occurs when individuals and businesses cannot pay their debts. It is an accepted best practice to ensure that irrecoverable debt is written off from our accounts. All debt written off is within the provisions already made for uncollectable debt and has already been accounted for in the final accounts.”

The amount lost in council tax was £1.456m, £647,000 less than the previous year’s £2.103m. The remaining money outstanding consists of: non-domestic rates (£1.347m), rental income (£2.345m) and debtors invoices (£610,000).

Mr Roberston said: “The impact of welfare reform is beginning to feed through to the bad debt write off amounts. Unless significant changes are made to the structure of Universal Credit, rent arrears and write offs will only get worse in the forthcoming years.”

The council collected 95.8% of council tax in 2017-18 and 98.1% of rent. Overall debt written off accounts for less than 1.1% of the net amount billed by the council.

Mr Robertson said: “Revenue services has introduced a culture and ethos of supporting those who cannot pay whilst taking robust action against those who choose not to pay.

“This constant message is having a positive effect in terms of collection improvements which is remarkable given the challenges Universal Credit has imposed on the work practices within the revenue and housing services.

“However, the impact of welfare cuts and reduced resources employed within the collection process have and will continue to present significant challenges in terms of collection and total debt written off.”