HARD PRESSED councils facing the threat of bankruptcy at the hands of the Tory government, and facing the prospect of having government commissioners imposed on them to force through savage cuts, are now employing strong-arm bailiffs to ‘visit’ council residents to make them pay what the councils say is owed.
Cash-strapped councils are lashing out at ordinary people who are also strapped for cash, and now live in fear of bailiffs swooping down on them to collect Council Tax or evict them as if they were criminals. A charity, Citizens Advice, shocked by councils trying to strong-arm their residents, has pointed out that households have fallen behind on essential bills by £18.9bn due to ten years of the most savage Tory austerity.
Citizens Advice points to the basic bottom line that arrears on bills, such as Council Tax, have risen by 40% from the £13.5bn owed in 2011-12. Its experience is that over the same period the proportion of calls to it for help against strong-arm bailiffs has ‘risen significantly’.
But some councils are claiming that they have a higher duty than their obligations to their residents, and this is said to be the duty to collect taxes, by any means necessary, to protect what services can be kept running. Bailiffs are now being used against ordinary people whose lives have been shattered by austerity and who are being treated as if they were enemies of the state. Citizens Advice said it is getting a call from someone needing help owing to bailiffs’ actions every three minutes.
One of its cases is that of an elderly couple who owed £700 in Council Tax who are now afraid to open their front door after bailiffs used aggressive tactics and threatened to call in the police to put them onto the streets. Another is of a man receiving cancer treatment who missed a £30 parking fine then found bailiffs had got into his home and were removing his possessions regardless.
New laws were introduced in England and Wales in 2014 aimed at protecting people with debts from unfair tactics. However, even a review by the Ministry of Justice conceded it had ‘lingering concerns’ about the continuing conduct of aggressive bailiffs. One couple have labelled an energy company ‘cruel’ after it sent bailiffs to their home for unpaid £4,300 bills that were not meant for them. Les and Jane Gornall of Aberystwyth were sent letters from Scottish Power, despite telling the firm they were British Gas customers.
Citizens Advice concludes that it fears aggressive tactics are leading to further debt and mental health problems that could have particularly severe consequences, such as having essential services cut off or losing a home. Also, Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, points out that: ‘Even small missed bills can skyrocket through excessive enforcement fees.’
However Richard Watts, from the Local Government Association, said: ‘No council wants to have to debt collect from its residents, particularly from people on low incomes, but local authorities have a duty to their residents to collect taxes which fund essential services, such as protecting vulnerable children, caring for the elderly, collecting bins, and keeping roads maintained. ‘It is essential that vital services are protected and that these funds are collected.’ However, all services are vital and all must be protected. There is only one way to do this.
Northamptonshire council has had three commissioners imposed on it to drive forward £70m of cuts. The council unions must send them packing back to London. The unions must also decide that they will not accept any sackings or any cuts in services. Council workforces in Northampton and the scores of councils in the same position must now establish Councils of Action to mobilise every section of the community to defend and maintain services.
They must lobby the TUC Congress on September 9th and demand the union leaders call a general strike to bring down the Tories and bring in a workers’ government and socialism. This will expropriate the bosses, ban cuts in jobs and services and bring in a socialist planned economy.
This is the way forward!