27th August 2015
Local authorities in England and Wales instructed bailiffs to collect debts on 2.1m occasions last year, according to new research by the Money Advice Trust.
The charity which runs National Debtline, in its Stop The Knock research, based on Freedom of Information requests to local authorities, highlighted that the latest figures marked a 16% rise on the previous two years despite repeated calls for councils to improve their debt collection practices since.
The analysis showed the readiness with which councils are instructing private bailiffs, despite the serious negative impact this can have on residents and businesses in financial difficulty.
The Money Advice Trust found council tax debts were passed to bailiffs, now legally known as ‘enforcement agents’, on 1.27m occasions during 2014/15. Parking-related debts were passed to bailiffs 715,000 times and Housing Benefit over-payments on 40,000 occasions.
In addition, private bailiffs were instructed to collect unpaid business rates 85,000 times and commercial rents on 2,700 occasions – as well as 32,000 sundry/other debts owed by individuals and businesses.
Council Tax arrears, which account for the majority of bailiff use by local authorities, is one of the fastest growing debt types that National Debtline helps people to resolve – with 24% of callers in arrears in 2014, up from just 14% in 2007.
The Money Advice Trust has this week written to all council leaders and local government minister Marcus Jones MP to highlight this growing problem, together with the need for a better approach to preventing and dealing with arrears.
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust said: “Two years ago our original research on local authority bailiff use led to widespread calls for councils to improve their debt collection practices.
“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.”
“Bailiff action is not only harmful to those in arrears – it is also a poor deal for the council taxpayer. Our research shows that those local authorities that use bailiffs the most are actually less successful, on average, at collecting council tax arrears. This is a lose-lose situation.”