CLOSE to £1million in  debts were written off by East Lothian Council last year with nearly half of the sum attributable to unpaid council tax.

The local authority has published details of money owed to it which was written off during the last financial year.

The amount included £444, 983 in unpaid council tax, including water rates; more than £66,000 in housing benefits overpayment; and £205,827 in what was described as “sundry accounts”.

In total, the council wrote off more than £905,000 including £85,000 in rent owed by tenants and £170,000 in business rates. It said it had managed to recoup £74,000 of debt owed.

Any individual debts owed to the local authority which are below £50,000 can be written off by officials without approval by councillors. In total, there were nearly 300 cases of owed council tax which were written off.

In a report, it was revealed that “any bad debts are written off against a bad and doubtful debt provision which is used to recognise the value of debts which are deemed to be irrecoverable”.

The council reviews its bad debts annually.

Last year, more than two thirds of its tenants had fallen into rent arrears following the introduction of Universal Credit in the county. The roll-out of the combined benefits system was piloted  in East Lothian in 2016; however the waiting period between when people were taken off the old system and received their first payment on the new system pushed people into arrears with claims of it taking up to two months until funds were released.

Following the introduction of the monthly payments, the Scottish Government offered claimants the choice of changing the frequency to twice a month, as the previous housing benefit was paid, and having it paid directly to their landlords.

A recent report by the Citizens Advice Bureau found that more than half of people moved into Universal Credit in East Lothian were, on average, £44 a week worse off.

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “Our revenues and welfare support teams work to help people manage their financial commitments and we will put in place payment plans and other sustainable measures to help anyone who is experiencing financial difficulties. This option is always available and we encourage people to get in touch at the earliest opportunity if they are concerned about their ability to pay. We will pursue debt recovery options when appropriate to ensure that we are securing value for the public purse and we are satisfied that we secure high collection rates. However, much of the bad debt occurs when an individual is declared bankrupt or a business is dissolved or liquidated and there is a legal requirement for us to write off any outstanding debt.”