28th October 2015
A Private Member’s Bill, introduced today, could make it harder for local authorities to refer council tax arrears cases to bailiffs clamp down on bad practice.
The Regulation of Enforcement Agents (Collection of Council Tax Arrears) Bill aims to improve debt collection practices employed by councils so that bailiffs are only used as a last resort; and build on regulations introduced by the Government in 2014 to provide stronger oversight of bailiff conduct.
Labour MP Yvonne Fovargue, who introduced the Bill to the House of Commons, says some local authorities appear to be using bailiffs to chase council tax arrears as the default option.
Debt advice agencies have also raised the alarm:
The Money Advice Trust says the number of council tax arrears cases referred to bailiffs stood at 1.27 million in 2014/15.
Evidence from StepChange Debt Charity suggests councils are twice as likely to threaten bailiffs when people come to them for help as offer an affordable payment option.
Fovargue says: “Despite reforms introduced by the Government last year, bailiffs are continuing to use intimidation and bogus excuses to gain entry to people’s homes and to seize goods which they have no right to.
“My Bill will ensure that bailiffs have to abide by a legally binding code to ensure that they act in a reasonable and fair manner. It will also set up an independent ombudsman – something long overdue – so that people have a simple way to seek redress when bailiffs get out of hand.
“I am also concerned that bailiffs are being called in too readily by local councils, when they should instead be giving people help with an affordable repayment option first.
“If we can avoid people being sent to bailiffs in the first place we will have a much better chance of ensuring that they can pay off their debts and get back on their feet.”
Mike O’Connor, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, adds: “While Councils have a duty to pursue debts, they must have a responsible and proportionate approach to dealing with people who are demonstrably in financial difficulty.
“Getting too tough, too early, for example, by sending in the bailiffs is often counterproductive. We know the costs of such action often puts people deeper in debt and does not lead to debts being recovered.
“The Government needs to support better standards of debt collection both in the interests of Council Tax payers and the most financially vulnerable in our society.”