FORGETFUL readers who failed to return books to Essex libraries have racked up unpaid fines of more than £315,000 in the past three financial years.

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Figures released following a Freedom of Information request show that Essex’s library service is owed £315,763.37 from users who have not paid their debts since 2009/10.

The top library with outstanding library fines is Colchester with £10,384.98 owed, while Chelmsford came in second with £9,883.07.

Braintree library also makes it in to the top five with £4,953.32 outstanding along with Harlow and Loughton.

Nearly 25.5million books have been lent to people living in Essex over the past three years, with a total of £1,048,497 collected in overdue charges from the county’s 73 libraries.

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “Essex Libraries offers members the option to renew items online, on the telephone or in person.

“The vast majority of library members return their loan items on time, and with 72% of members now choosing to renew their items online the process is more flexible than ever.

“Members who do not return items on time are given two written reminders.

“Where items have been borrowed legitimately but kept overdue, the record of a person’s loans, including outstanding payments, remains on their account and their membership is suspended until the material is returned and a payment is made in full.”

Colchester also ranked highest with the number of books that have not been returned with 10,130, with Chelmsford in second place with 9,399. The spokesman added: “Print books remain very popular but we are seeing an increase in the use of our e-audio and e-book collections.

“As these do not need to be physically returned to the library, they also have the advantage of no late fees.”

More than 20,000 people per day visit a library in Essex, borrowing more than seven million items per year.

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