London’s fire brigade is set to write off almost £380,000 in unpaid invoices after lawyers warned staff had collected insufficient information to pursue the debts in court.
The invoices relate to charges levied against the owners of commercial and public sector buildings which generate nuisance alarm calls.
Government legislation allows local fire authorities to recover the costs associated with attending such false alarms provided they are generated by strictly defined causes, such as malfunctioning or misinstalled alarm systems.
In London property owners are charged £391 per call out, a fee approved two years ago by members of the capital’s fire authority in a bid to encourage owners to reduce the number of false alarms in their properties.
According to papers presented to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, the strategy has helped deliver a sharp reduction in the number of such calls, allowing the brigade to devote firefighter time to genuine callouts.
However while many building owners have paid the fines levied, others have challenged their legitimacy and refused to pay, leaving the authority and brigade with more than 1,240 bad debts totalling £377,000.
Lawyers engaged by LFEPA have now advised that the brigade has failed to collect sufficient information about the cause of each call out, making it impossible to take debtors to court and forcing it to write-off the sums owed.
The inability to enforce the debts will deprive the cash-strapped brigade of much-needed funds.
Members of the authority have also been warned that some invoices which have already been paid may also have to be cancelled and the money returned to the property owners where it’s impossible to prove the cause of the call-out.