Sturgeon accused of 'parroting' DWP line on debt repayments

The First Minister faced calls from Richard Leonard to back Labour's calls for debtors to be informed of the money they owe public bodies within 5 years.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, the Scottish Labour leader urged the SNP to back Labour’s amendments to the Prescription (Scotland) Bill, which the government voted down this afternoon.

Under the present system, Scottish councils and the Department of Work and Pensions have up to twenty years to begin to pursue a person for debt they are liable for.

Labour has warned that the current system can see people presented with huge bills, running into thousands of pounds, and stretching back decades.

Labour’s amendments are supported by Citizen’s Advice Scotland, Money Advice Scotland and the debt charity StepChange.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard told the chamber: “Under the current system, the Department of Work and Pensions can take up to twenty years to notify people of debt relating to the overpayment of benefits."

“It’s not just the DWP, Scotland’s councils have twenty years before they have to notify people about a council tax debt." he added.

“We think it is unfair that a person can be chased for a debt twenty years after it was incurred. That they had no knowledge of and when no previous action has been taken."

“The system as it stands is not only unnecessary, it is cruel. It does not serve the interests of the individual but it does not serve the public interest either.”

Sturgeon attempted to defend the SNP's policy by claiming it could mean "higher repayment instalments", although Labour pointed out their amendment would still see debtors given a twenty-year repayment period.

Indeed, the SNP's position shares more than a passing resemblance with the Department of Work and Pension's policy, which claims: "The application of the five year prescription would reduce our ability to recover public money and could erode some of the safeguards we have in place to protect our customers from harsh or excessive recovery rates.”

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