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Bristol to replace ‘hired muscle’ debt collection with more ethical approach

A city council is planning on phasing out its use of “private-hired muscle” bailiffs as part of a more ethically-aware debt collection trial over the next few months.

Deputy mayor Craig Cheney revealed Bristol City Council – which currently hires bailiffs to reclaim some of the £15m it loses every year due to unpaid council tax – will follow Hammersmith’s lead to become the second-ever English local authority to stop the allegedly unethical practice.

Speaking to the BBC, Cheney, the councillor in charge of the trial, said the local authority will only use bailiffs in the “bare minimum” of cases.

Coming from a struggling background, the deputy mayor shared that he has previously hidden under the window ledge at his family home while bailiffs hammered on his window.

“As a child, my family struggled with money problems that were never helped by the extra pressures put on us by the additional costs that come with enforcement action,” he said.

“We are looking at ways in which we can support those who have these troubles by signposting them to advice and information services early. We are already someway along that journey and have seen our levels of debt collection rise whilst our use of enforcement agents has decreased.”

Bristol now wants to explore how to take the next steps to ensure agents are used as an “absolute last resort” when recovering debt – all part of a vision to become a “city of hope and aspiration.”

The piloted approach will be similar to that of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, which has itself stopped using bailiffs and taking people to court after a successful ‘ethical debt collection’ scheme.

Today’s news comes after a report from the Commons Treasury Committee revealed that councils are “overzealously” pursuing debt from struggling families with routine usage of bailiffs. “The public sector should be leading by example in their treatment of the most financially vulnerable, but the current approach risks driving them into further difficulty,” its MPs said.

Top image c. csfotoimages


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