UK a bailiffs paradise!

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LOCAL councils should ‘back off’ from calling in bailiffs, after doing so an ‘excessive’ 1.8 million times in the last year, to collect debts on their behalf

This was the demand of the Money Advice Trust, the debt advice charity, after it studied the results of its Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to all 374 local authorities in England and Wales.

The charity called on councils to be more responsible in managing their debt collection.

Money Advice Trust said the most common debts referred by local authorities were council tax arrears, business rate arrears and parking fines.

Around 98 per cent of councils responded to the FoI request and the charity found an ‘extreme variation’ as to how frequently councils called in the bailiffs.

Birmingham, the UK’s largest local authority, referred debts to bailiffs on 82,329 occasions in the last 12 months, the highest number of any council.

To measure which councils used bailiffs most frequently, regardless of their size, the charity compared the number of times they were instructed as a percentage of the total number of properties in a local authority.

It found that although Birmingham had the highest number of referrals, this amounted to 17% of the city’s total number of properties.

The London borough of Newham instructed bailiffs 55,652 times – nearly 50% of the total number of properties.

Money Advice Trust chief executive Joanna Elson said the figures show councils need to change their behaviour.

She said: ‘1.8 million debt referrals to bailiffs is clearly excessive.

‘Local authorities seem to be assuming that anyone not paying debts is a “won’t pay”, rather than a “can’t pay”.’

The Citizens Advice Bureau, which found there had been a 38% increase in complaints about private bailiffs over the last five years, said it was concerned that councils were too quick to pass debts on.

It added that it had evidence that private bailiffs ‘frequently overstate their powers, act aggressively and bump up debts by levying excessive and illegal fees and charges’.

Both charities want more councils to follow guidelines set up by Citizens Advice and backed by the Local Government Association (LGA).

The LGA said councils only used bailiffs as a ‘last resort’, claiming that councils ‘offer a broad range of support to people facing genuine difficulties paying their bills’.