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Concerns over council tax reforms mount

24 May 2013

Removing support will mean boom time for bailiffs

Bailiffs are set to profit from cuts to council tax support as stretched households struggle to cover the extra costs and Local Authorities turn to bailiffs to collect people’s debts.

Citizens Advice has warned that a cocktail of inadequate regulation and slashed council tax support risks pushing many more vulnerable people into the hands of bailiffs.  Evidence from CABs has found bailiffs frequently overstate their powers, act aggressively and bump up debts by levying excessive and illegal fees and charges.

New statistics from Citizens Advice show that since the introduction of Council Tax Support on 1 April, problems have already begun to build. The number of people worried about how they will pay has rocketed, with over 37,000 consulting the charity’s online advice pages about council tax in April 2013 - 87% higher than the same month last year.

As council tax support moves to localised schemes with ten per cent less funding than the old, national scheme, almost 2.5 million of England’s poorest households will have to squeeze up to £322 more out of already stretched budgets¹. If they can’t pay, families face mounting debts and are at risk of bailiff action.

From April 2012 to March 2013, Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) in England and Wales helped with 60,652 problems with bailiffs, a third of which were for council tax debts, and 161,564 problems with Council Tax arrears.

Citizens Advice is already seeing a growing concern around bailiffs. Last month the number of people seeking online advice on how to deal with bailiffs almost trebled, rising to over 20,000 from just under 7,000 in April last year. As the changes push more people into arrears, bureaux are braced for an influx of people facing problems with bailiffs.

Citizens Advice is calling for councils to take action to protect their residents by helping them deal with their debts early on and only using bailiffs as a last resort.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“Bailiffs will see their profits rise at the expense of hard-pressed households.  We’re concerned that changes to council tax benefit will mean more people will end up in debt because they can’t pay their bill and have the bailiff knocking at their door.

“The number of people worried about council tax is up 87% since the changes came in, and this will climb even higher as more people find it difficult to cope with the costs.  Bailiffs often overstate their powers, deliberately frighten debtors and charge extortionate fees.  We want councils to help people get on top of their council tax debts so the use of bailiffs is no longer necessary.”

Citizens Advice wants all Local Authorities to sign up to the good practice debt collection protocol, drawn up with the Local Government Association, which shows how councils can work with debt advice agencies to develop fair debt collection policies, cut down on bailiff use and protect vulnerable residents.  We also want to see an independent, statutory licence for bailiff firms to crack down on lawless behaviour.   

-ends-

Bailiff fact file

In August 2012, analysis of 400 bailiff problems which people brought to CAB found:

Citizens Advice

Notes to editors

  1. Figures from the New Policy Institute
  2. The analysis of 478 cases provided by advisers from Citizens Advice Bureaux, National Debtline, Institute of Money Advisers, AdviceUK and StepChange was carried out between 5th July to 3rd August 2012.
  3. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more information in England and Wales see www.citizensadvice.org.uk
  4. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality. For online advice and information see www.adviceguide.org.uk
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.9 million problems from April 2011 to March 2012. For full 2011/2012 service statistics see: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/press_statistics
  6. Out of 22 national charities, the Citizens Advice service is ranked by the general public as being the most helpful, approachable, professional, informative, effective / cost effective, reputable and accountable. (nfpSynergy’s Brand Attributes survey, May 2010).
  7. Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,500 service outlets across England and Wales.