DEPUTY Willie O’Dea has accused Limerick City and County Council of being “overzealous” in collecting unpaid commercial rates, after it emerged private debt collectors will be hired.
And Limerick Chamber boss Maria Kelly has also urged a rethink on the hiring of debt collectors for the first time in local authority history.
It has been confirmed the council is to privately employ staff to chase down the €25.5m in rates owed from more than 2,220 local businesses.
And Mr O’Dea fears that the “high-handed methods” employed by collectors could lead to local businesses being forced out of business.
They are facing a double hit, with the revaluation process meaning that many are paying a higher level in commercial rate.
“These companies will not take into account the financial circumstances of the individual businesses who might have short term cash flow issues but overall have a long term sustainable business. Their actions will most likely close down businesses with the resultant loss of jobs and even more vacant units in Limerick city,” he said.
He said that instead of paying money to hire debt collectors, the money should be passed onto traders in the form of a reduction in their rates bill.
Ms Kelly added: “The economic reality facing businesses cannot be ignored and local authorities need to be working with businesses who genuinely cannot afford to pay their rates in full. Rate collectors must differentiate between ability to pay and willingness to pay; there is a fundamental difference and we urge the local authority to work with businesses on plans.”
A council spokesperson said the employment of debt collectors “is a tender for a framework agreement for the provision of debt recovery services prior to legal action for the new local authority, Limerick City and County Council. This framework will form part of the Council’s methodology in order to collect outstanding arrears.”
She added: “The council is working with its customers and is facilitating payment plans. Anyone with arrears and already has not done so should contact us in order to discuss their situation and the local authority will facilitate an arrangement, where feasible.”