Laura Sharman 21 May 2020

Charities warn millions of people in council tax arrears due to Covid-19

Over two million people have fallen behind on their council tax payments as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, debt charities have warned.

Citizens Advice, the Money Advice Trust and StepChange Debt Charity said that people in the ‘shielded’ group are four times as likely to fall behind on a household bill than those not at increased risk from the virus.

The three charities are calling for changes to regulations on how councils collect council tax arrears, warning that enforcement action will push households into further debt.

They want councils to follow a ‘pre-action protocol’ before enforcing council tax recovery such as setting up an affordable repayment plan. They also want councils to collect debts over more than one year by changing collection rate targets.

Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: ‘Coronavirus has caused huge financial uncertainty for local councils. But this pressure must not trigger a wave of aggressive debt collection against people who are themselves struggling to pay their bills. Aggressive collection drives vulnerable people further into debt and is inefficient. Councils get back just 27p for every £1 of debt passed on to bailiffs.

'The Government must urgently change the rules so local authorities can collect council tax debts fairly and sustainably. Otherwise millions of people could face the prospect of heavy-handed bailiff enforcement on bills they can’t afford to pay.’

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