Laura Sharman 27 August 2015

Councils used bailiffs 2.1 million times last year says charity

Councils used bailiffs 2.1 million times last year says charity image

Councils referred 2.1 million debts to bailiffs last year, an increase of 16% in the last two years according to a new report.

A freedom of information request by charity, Money Advice Trust, found council tax debts were passed to enforcement officers on 1.27 million occasions in 2014/15, while parking-related debts were passed on 715,000 times.

The report, Stop the Knock, said those councils who used bailiffs the most actually had less success in collecting council tax arrears, and warned residents faced a ‘postcode lottery’ over their treatment for arrears.

‘Something is seriously wrong here. On the front line of debt advice we know that sending the bailiffs in can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them – and it can also have a severe impact on the wellbeing of people who are often already in a vulnerable situation,’ said Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust.

‘Local authorities are facing significant funding pressures – and they of course have a duty to collect what they are owed. In the case of council tax, this is particularly crucial in ensuring proper funding for the local services we all rely on.

'Too many councils, however, are far too quick to escalate to bailiff action when better preventive work, earlier detection and support for people who fall behind are far better options for all concerned.’

However, council leaders said due to a 40% reduction in government funding, local authorities had no choice but to reduce council tax discounts.

Cllr Claire Kober, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, said: ‘Bailiffs are only ever used as a last resort by councils. Before the situation reaches a stage where bailiffs are involved several letters will have been written, people will have been encouraged to apply for financial support, and efforts will be made to arrange new payment plans or to attach the debt to a salary.

‘Anyone having trouble paying their council bills should get in touch with their local authority for financial help and advice.’

The charity has written to all council leaders calling for improvements in the way arrears are handled.

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