WIRRAL Council is having to put aside £1.4m for unpaid debts from council house tenants.

The money is to cover money owed by people who abscond without paying their rents and arrears, as well as those who have died owing money.

A further £200,000 was put aside for bad debts from certain repairs to council housing.

Wirral Council's executive member for housing, Cllr George Davies, said the authority was torn between collecting the money owed and its obligation to help those in need of shelter. But he pledged that the authority would continue to pursue the debts.

Cllr Davies said: "My point of view is I have always said, as cabinet member for housing, I want officers to pursue all money that belongs to us and the council tax payers that we serve."

He said that although the money owed was written off, the debt was never forgotten and if opportunities came to reclaim it later the council would do so.

Cllr Davies said: "When you get debts and write-offs it's usually down to people who abscond and, often, they are the most vulnerable people in society. But we do not just say that is it. We are writing it off the books because we can't contact anyone about it at the moment.

"But we always make this declaration - if anyone knows of the whereabouts of these people, we will follow that up.

"We have had people who think we have forgotten about their arrears come back to us three or four years down the line for a council house, and we have to tell them they must pay off the debt.

"But we also have, as a department, a policy which is set down by Government to help people find a place to stay. Some of these people are the most vulnerable members of our society."

Cllr Chris Blakeley, chairman of the housing and community safety select committee which oversees the housing department, said: "We do suffer quite badly from rent arrears, but we have a policy of trying to track down people who haven't paid."

Cllr Blakeley, who is vice chairman of Wirral Partnership Homes which is expected to take over the borough's council houses next year, said outstanding arrears would be transferred to the new company which would continue to try and recover them.

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Stuart Kelly said: "It's a pity we have to make these provisions, but it forms part of the prudent management of the accounts. You cannot run a large multi-million pound organisation hand to mouth."

Cllr David Elderton, chairman of the authority's finance and corporate management select committee, said: "If the money does not get paid from those who owe it then it will have to come from somewhere else."

But he added: "The debt is never written off entirely."