Households owe nearly £19bn on essential bills such as council tax and utilities, Citizens Advice has warned today.
Figures from the charity show that households owe £2.84bn to local authorities in council tax arrears.
The charity also said it helped one person every three minutes with bailiff issues last year. This is an increase of 24% since the government introduced reforms to protect people from unfair practices in 2014.
Citizens Advice is calling for better regulation of unaccountable bailiff firms, warning that aggressive tactics are leading to further debt and mental health problems.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: 'Families are living in fear of a visit from the bailiffs, and small missed bills can skyrocket through excessive enforcement fees.
'Our evidence shows aggressive tactics by bailiffs cause huge distress and can even push people further into debt. Families are going without essentials like food or electricity to meet their payments.'
In response, cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, said: 'No council wants to have to debt collect from its residents, particularly from people on low incomes, but local authorities have a duty to their residents to collect taxes which fund essential services, such as protecting vulnerable children, caring for the elderly, collecting bins, and keeping roads maintained.
'It’s essential that vital services are protected and that these funds are collected.'