A Derry City and Strabane Council Committee has agreed to write off over £170,000 in parking fines across the city and district.
The council’s Business and Culture Committee took the decision over the "bad debt" after a report compiled by council officers was brought before them at their December meeting in Strabane on Tuesday.
Derry City and Strabane District Council currently operates 15 paid car parks across the city and in Strabane town centre.
The majority of the outstanding charges would have transferred from central government to council under the Review of Public Administration- when council took over responsibility for the car parks, and would have been classed as bad debt by the department. As such, the committee was told, it can be written off at no cost to council.
Council’s Head of Business, Kevin O’Connor, said they were recommending the write-off of charges incurred through Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) as the Department for Infrastructure now considers that these fines will not be collected.
The committee was told that the amount of outstanding penalties in UK and Republic of Ireland cases amounted £174,813.95, while a further £1,890.00 involved foreign vehicles.
The committee was also informed the bad debt included instances where the keeper information is not supplied, and where the vehicle is a foreign registered vehicle, and in these circumstances, enforcement correspondence cannot be issued.
In other instances the debt to be recovered through clamping or by referral to the Enforcement of Judgements Office (EJO), but there are cases when the money cannot be recovered, and in these cases the department recommends writing off the debt.
DUP alderman David Ramsey said: "We’re glad it is not costing us anything so I have no problem proposing it."
Seconding the move, Sinn Fein councillor Caoimhe McKnight said: "Unfortunately we haven’t been able to recover this bad debt but obviously you have looked at all avenues of recovering it. Just like any business, unfortunately we do have to write off some bad debt."
SDLP councillor Martin Reilly stressed that this involved cases of bad debt before the council took over the operation of the car parks, and asked what council was doing now to enforce debt collection, stating that it was important this wasn’t repeated going forward.
UUP Alderman Derek Hussey agreed: "We need to be careful this doesn’t send out the wrong message that in future this Council isn’t going to bother it’s backside, " he said.
Mr O’Connor said the bad debt had been accumulated "over a long period of time". "This is not one year, three years or even five years, " he said.
He said that robust procedures have been put in place with the transfer of responsibility for the car parks, a move which had achieved positive results, with the vast majority of people receiving fines paying them.
Speaking about the car parks now, he said: "Usage is up, revenue is up, profit is up. Overall, compared to car parks pre-transfer, it is night and day in terms of how we are looking at that. The majority of people are compliant."
The committee was told that currently a number of enforcement actions are taken by the Department to recover debt, including getting registered keeper details from the Driver Licensing Agency before Notice to Owners issues. Charge Certificates and Notice of Enforcement of Charge Certificate can also be issued as well as Clamp and Remove notification.