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Councils accused of 'aggressive' debt collection

Councils using 'aggressive and frightening' debt collectors have been accused of making people feel suicidal, according to the findings of a new report.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) found people chased for council tax debt and benefit overpayments were 41% more likely to consider suicide than those with only private sector debt.

The report, Powerless People, also found 93% of debt clients helped by CAP had suffered sleepless nights and 69% had skipped meals due to the money they owed.

'While we’re happy to have seen improvement in some of the private sector’s debt collecting practices, it is totally unacceptable that some of the most aggressive debt collecting behaviour in our nation comes from the hands of both local and national governments,' said CAP’s chief Executive Matt Barlow.

He added: 'We’ve seen so much improvement in the private sector, the utilities companies too are making great strides in the way they treat people in debt. Local and national governments are put in place to serve the nation, and whilst they do a very good job in so many areas, their practices in debt collection fall a long way short.'

The charity wants the Breathing Space scheme being rolled out to give people relief from local and central government debt collection.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils only ever undertake debt collection as a last resort, and would always try to help people to arrange a payment plan first.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’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. With councils facing a funding shortfall of almost £8 billion by 2025, it’s essential that vital services are protected and that these funds are collected.'