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Charity reports ‘deeply troubling’ use of bailiffs by council

The number of bailiffs being used by councils to collect debts has risen by 14% in the last two years, new research has revealed today.

The report from the Money Advice Trust found councils passed 2.3m in debts to bailiffs in 2016/17.

Stop The Knock 2017 found councils passed on council tax debts to bailiffs on 1.38 million occasions between April 2016 and March 2017, with parking notices passed on 810,000 times.

However, the report also found that nearly four in ten councils have managed to reduce their use of bailiffs in the same two years. It also found nearly all (97%) of councils surveyed signpost residents in financial difficulty to free debt advice.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: ‘The growing use of bailiffs to collect debts by many local authorities is deeply troubling. Councils are under enormous financial pressure, and they, of course, need to recover what they are owed in order to fund vital services.

‘However, many councils are far too quick to turn to bailiff action – which we know can seriously harm the wellbeing of residents who are often already in vulnerable situations. It can also push people even further into debt.

‘Bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention, making sure residents get the free debt advice they need, and agreeing to repayment arrangements that are affordable and sustainable.’

The charity has published six steps for local authorities to improve the way they collect debts, including making a commitment to reduce bailiff use, signing up to the Council Tax Protocol and exempting council tax support recipients from bailiff action.

Responding to the report, Cllr Claire Kober, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, said: ‘Before councils use bailiffs, which are only ever used as a last resort, people will have been encouraged to apply for monetary support and efforts will have been made to either attach the debt to a salary or arrange new payment plans.’