Bailiffs called out 1.8m times by councils in last year

22 August 2013

Local authorities across England and Wales called in bailiffs to recover debts 1.8 million times in the last 12 months, according to the Money Advice Trust.

Following a Freedom of Information request to all 374 local authorities, the MAT found that councils have been referring debts to bailiffs in increasing numbers.

Birmingham City Council (the largest local authority in the UK) was the most prolific, referring debts to bailiffs on 82,329 occasions in the last 12 months - equivalent to 17% of total properties in Birmingham. The London Borough of Newham council referred 55,652 cases to bailiffs - equivalent to nearly half of the total properties under its authority.

Even small local authority Merthyr Tydfil Council referred 6,094 debts to bailiffs, equivalent to 22% of the total properties under its authority.

Local authorities most commonly refer council tax arrears, business rate arrears, and parking fines to bailiffs for collection.

Council tax arrears are the third most common debt type dealt with by National Debtline - in the first half of 2013 it received over 20,000 calls for help with council tax, a record in its 23-year history and an increase of 61% on five years ago, and 13% over 2012.

The charity called on local authorities to be more responsible when it comes to dealing with debt issues.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: "These figures make clear that something has to change. It is not economically or socially responsible for local authorities to continue to use bailiffs so frequently. Our experience through National Debtline shows us first-hand how bailiffs can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them.

"Local authorities seem to be assuming that anyone not paying debts is a 'won't pay', rather than a 'can't pay'. In today's economy, with real incomes having fallen consistently for many years, more and more people are falling into the 'can't pay' bracket - sending the bailiffs in to collect these debts can be very destructive, both financially and psychologically."

"We firmly encourage all local authorities to consider their debt collection practices, especially following the abolition of national Council Tax Benefit and the introduction of localised Council Tax Support."

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