Charities urge councils to call off bailiffs

Charities have urged councils to call off bailiffs pursuing vulnerable residents for council tax debts.

StepChange and the Money Advice Trust claim that councils’ use of bailiffs is rising to match rising council tax debt.

Both charities argue that this threat of bailiffs causes extra stress and anxiety to those in debt and has called for councils to give residents ‘breathing space’.

Mike O'Connor, chief executive of StepChange, has labeled the use of Bailiffs as ‘counterproductive’ and has called for it to ’stop immediately’. He argues that the current system should be replaced with one that is ‘fairer and more constructive’.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has responded to the claims by saying that bailiffs are only used as a ‘last resort’.

Claire Kober, resources portfolio holder at the LGA, said: "Faced with growing funding pressures, councils are increasingly unable to plug the ever-widening gap between the money they receive to fund council tax support and they need to protect those on low incomes.

"No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. Significant cuts to the money councils receive to look after the elderly, protect children, repair roads and collect bins, mean many have had little choice but to reduce council tax discounts for the working-age poor or low income families - who may have never paid council tax before – to avoid finding even more savings from spending on local services to meet the shortfall.

Kober stressed that councils have a duty to collect taxes so important services are not negatively affected.

She added: "We have worked closely with Citizens Advice on a protocol for councils using bailiffs when recovering debts. It includes the need for fair collection and enforcement policies and the ability for councils to take back cases involving vulnerable families. We agree that bailiffs should only ever be used as a last resort. Before the situation reaches a stage where bailiffs are involved several letters should have been written, people should have been encouraged to apply for financial support, and efforts should be made to arrange new payment plans or to attach the debt to a salary.