Poverty and Inequality

15.11.17

Council use of bailiffs jumps by 14% in just two years

The use of bailiffs by local authorities has risen by 14% in two years, new research has shown.

The research, by the Money Advice Trust, found that in 2016-17 councils passed over £2.3m debts were passed to bailiffs.

The increase in the use of bailiffs comes despite government guidance which states that bailiffs should only be used as a last resort.

Over a quarter of callers to the National Debtline so far this year have reported council tax arrears - an increase from just 14% back in 2007.

The report, ‘Stop the knock 2017,’ found that although some councils are working to reduce their reliance on bailiffs and signposting residents in financial difficulty to free debt advice, almost half of councils have no formal policy for dealing with vulnerable residents when collecting debts, while10 councils did not signpost residents to debt advice at all.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, called the increasing use of bailiffs  “deeply troubling.”

She said: “Councils are under enormous financial pressure, and they of course need to recover what they are owed in order to fund vital services.

“However, many councils are far too quick to turn to bailiff action – which we know can seriously harm the wellbeing of residents who are often already in vulnerable situations.”

She warned that the use of bailiffs can even push people into further debt.

“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,” Elson continued.

“The good news is that many councils are working hard to improve – and indeed, nearly four in 10 are actually using bailiffs less than they were two years ago. 

“They should be congratulated for showing that this can be done.”

The trust is calling on local authorities to improve their practice by reducing bailiff use and exempt recipients of council tax support from bailiff action, review their signposting to free debt advice, adopt the Standard Financial Statement to objectively assess affordability, and sign up to the Citizens’ Advice/LGA Council Tax Protocol.

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