Citizens Advice is calling for better regulation of bailiff firms, as it estimates households are falling behind on essential bills by as much as £18.9 billion.
Household bill debts include tax credit overpayments of almost £7.5 billion, £2.84 billion owed to local authorities in England for council tax arrears, and £2.2 billion to water companies in England and Wales, according to figures from Citizens Advice.
In 2017, the charity says it helped one person every three minutes with bailiff issues. It is concerned that aggressive tactics by bailiffs may lead to further debt and mental health problems.
The charity is calling for the bailiff industry to be independently regulated and for the government to commit to measuring the levels of household bill debt.
It cites the case of a retired couple who – for the first time in their lives – had fallen behind on some of their essential bills and owed £700 in council tax. The bailiffs who came to collect the debt were aggressive and demanded the full amount immediately, saying they would call the police if the couple couldn't pay. The couple are now afraid to open their front door.
The charity has seen a significant rise in the number of enquiries related to household bill debts since 2011. In 2017, it helped with 690,000 household bill debt problems, compared to 350,000 consumer credit issues.
People with household bill debt were 37% more likely to be out of full-time employment and one in three (34%) had a mental health problem.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, comments: “One person every three minutes come to us for help with bailiff issues. Families are living in fear of a visit from the bailiffs, and small missed bills can skyrocket through excessive enforcement fees.
“Our evidence shows aggressive tactics by bailiffs cause huge distress and can even push people further into debt. Families are going without essentials like food or electricity to meet their payments.”
If you are concerned about your finances, contact Citizens Advice for budgeting and debt guidance.