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.
Bailiff fact file
- There has been a 38% increase in problems with private bailiffs in the last five years (data from 07/08 to 11/12).
- In 2012 there were over 63,000 problems about all types of bailiffs reported to Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales.
- Almost 9 in 10 problems with bailiffs relate to private bailiffs who are responsible for collecting debts including council tax debts and unpaid parking penalties
In August 2012, analysis of 400 bailiff problems which people brought to CAB found:
- 2 in 5 (39%) threatened the use of force to get in
- 16% said they would call the police to gain entry
- 1 in 4 threatened to take items that are banned from removal by bailiffs (such as clothing or work tools)
- 29% threatened to seize goods that belonged to someone else.
- In almost 4 out of 5 (78%) of the cases bailiff action has brought on stress and anxiety
- In 35% bailiff action has exacerbated clients mental or physical health problems (23% and 12% respectively).