MORE than one in ten Scottish Borders residents who pay for social care are in debt with the council.

Out of the 2,441 Borders who pay for social care, including care home residents and community alarm customers, 309 have fallen behind in their payments.

Scottish Borders Council has also initiated debt management procedures against 52 of those struggling to pay their bills.

The figures, released via a freedom of information request by the GMB union, relate to just five months of operation, from April to September of 2017, and provide a snapshot of the state of social care affordability in the Scottish Borders.

A Scottish Borders Council spokesperson said: “We ask anyone who is experiencing difficulty in making payment to contact us to discuss.

“As a result of these discussions we would try to agree a suitable arrangement for payment. If this was not possible because of their financial situation, we would suggest they get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau for advice or refer debtor to social care for possible appeal against charge.

“Our debt recovery policy recognises that some debtors are vulnerable and allows staff sufficient flexibility to defer recovery action and take alternative action which is more appropriate to the person’s needs.

“We also try to ensure that any action taken is balanced, just and fair.”

The GMB investigation also submitted freedom of information requests to every other local authority with responsibility for social care in Great Britain.

The figures show that at least 166,835 people are in arrears on their social care payments, though that figure may be greater as not all local authorities responded.

They also show that more than 78,000 people have had debt management procedures started against them, and 1,178 people have been taken to court by local authorities for social care debts.

Sharon Wilde, GMB’s national officer, said: “These stark figures show the UK’s social care ticking time bomb has now blown a gaping hole in families’ finances.

“The fact more than 1,000 people have been taken to court because they’re unable to pay for their own care, or that of their loved ones, shows the system just isn’t working.

“Meanwhile, our ageing population is creating a huge demand for care staff, but caring is still not seen as a sought after career.

“The lack of local authority funding often means low pay, and the sector is struggling to recruit and retain the dedicated staff needed to provide the best care to the UK’s most vulnerable people.

“We need a clear, coherent strategy for funding social care now and in the future.

“Otherwise the struggle to recruit and retain carers will become even more acute, while tens of thousands of people are plunged into debt trying to pay for the level of support that they need.”

Melanie Nairn, manager of Peebles and district Citizens Advice Bureau, said: “We would urge anyone who is in debt of any kind to contact their local Citizens Advice Bureau as soon as possible.

“We have main offices in Galashiels, Peebles, Kelso, Hawick, Eyemouth and Duns, as well as a number of outreach services across the Borders.

“We can also give advice online or by telephone. Our advice is free, confidential and impartial, and we deal with thousands of debt cases every year.”