One million unpaid parking fines drive surge in councils using bailiffs to collect debt

11 September 2019

More than one million parking fines were passed to bailiffs by councils last year

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The use of bailiffs to collect debts owed to councils in England and Wales has risen by 7% in the last two years, driven by a surge in the collection of parking fines, new research shows.

More than 2.6 million debts were passed to bailiffs by local authorities in 2018/19, according to charity the Money Advice Trust, which runs National Debtline.

Bailiffs, now known officially as enforcement agents, have the right to visit a property to remove and sell goods to repay certain debts, including council tax arrears, parking notices and other debts owed to councils.

Parking debts were passed to bailiffs on nearly 1.1 million occasions - up 21% on the same period in 2016/17.

Meanwhile, there were 1.4 million referrals for council tax debts and a further 100,000 for housing benefits payments and business rates.

Of the 367 councils the Money Advice Trust asked, around half have increased their use of bailiffs for council tax.

Data from National Debtline shows that three in 10 callers last year had council tax arrears – up from just 15% in 2008, with many of these callers subject to bailiff action.

Meanwhile, 83% of callers who have experienced bailiff action surveyed reported a negative impact on their well-being.

The news comes after the Ministry of Justice announced it was making it compulsory for bailiffs to wear body cameras earlier this year.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, says: “Bailiff action is harmful to people in debt – and the fact that local authorities are passing 2.6 million debts a year to bailiffs should concern us all.

“Reforming the law around bailiff action itself is vital if we are to protect people from harm – and we are today renewing our call for the government to introduce independent bailiff regulation and a single complaints mechanism.

“Of equal importance, however, is reducing the number of debts that are being passed to bailiffs in the first place. 

“Bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention, making sure residents get the free debt advice they need, and agreeing repayment arrangements that are affordable and sustainable.”

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Resources Board, adds: “Councils have a duty to their residents to collect taxes, which play a vital role in funding important services that people rely on.

"However, we realise that times are tough and councils do their best to protect those affected the most, whether through introducing hardships funds or taking a sympathetic and constructive approach to the way we collect unpaid tax.

“We have worked with Citizens Advice on a protocol for recovering debts, which as this report demonstrates is having a positive effect. It includes the need for fair collection and enforcement policies and the ability for councils to take back cases involving vulnerable families.

“Anyone having trouble paying their council bills should get in touch with their local authority for financial help and advice.”

Where to get help with debt

StepChange is a charity that offers free and confidential debt advice over the telephone and online. To get in touch, call 0800 138 1111 or go to its website at stepchange.org.

National Debtline is a free telephone debt advice service for people in England, Wales and Scotland. Go online at nationaldebtline.org or call 0808 808 4000.

Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland provide face-to-face support at more than 3,500 locations across the UK.

Comments

Parking fines

I received a notice of parking fine approx. two months after the alleged offence.
On checking my records I discovered that I had been away on business, and the car had been in my garage locked.
I informed the Council, they would not accept my explanation, and said that I would have to attend the County Court.
I took the day off work, and attended the Court, and was told by the courteous lady usher that there was an important case involving children, and that the magistrates would not see me that day. She assured me that my name would go on the record as attending.
The DPP then wrote to me stating that they had spoken to the usher, and HE said that I had not been at Court that day, which was obviously a lie. The DPP arranged another date for Court, and at that hearing I was completely exonerated. Unwisely I didn't ask for anything in writing stating that I had been exonerated.
I next received an aggressive letter from the local Chief Superintendent stating that unless I informed the Police who was driving my car that day the Police would "enter my house, forcibly if necessary, and remove goods to pay the fine".
I couldn't take a third day off work, so paid the fine.

Some lessons for all:
1.the DPP are willing to lie to get a conviction for a parking offence.
2. The traffic Police take no notice of a court Order.
3. Be very wary about parking tickets issued months after the event.

Increasing non-payments of parking fines

Increasing frequencies of penalties and non-payments are hardly surprising. I suspect that this pattern is also applicable to speeding fines.

Councils are guilty of abusing their powers and exploiting them as cash cows. It’s hardly surprising that a significant and increasing number of victims caught out by thuggish parking wardens and from hidden speeding cameras by 5 or 6 mph over the maximum, react by refusing to pay. The local Authorities can expect more of the same!

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