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Concerns council tax debts are passed to bailiffs too quickly

22 Awst 2013

Citizens Advice has raised concerns that some councils are passing debts to bailiffs too quickly and aren’t doing enough to support those who are struggling to pay.  New figures released today from the Money Advice Trust reveal local authorities referred 1.8 million debts to bailiffs in 12 months.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“I’m concerned that in some cases councils are too quick to pass debts to bailiffs.  Half of people we help with bailiffs problems are families with children.  A bailiff turning up at the doorstep of your home is frightening.

“Local authorities have a duty to protect and support the people who live in their communities.  They need to recognise the current squeeze on household finances. If a family is struggling to pay their council tax bill it is quite likely they are battling other bills too.  It should be an alarm bell for the authority that people need help.

“The move from council tax benefits to a localised support scheme means fewer people who are on a financial knife-edge will get help with their bills, and puts more people at risk of bailiff action.

“I want councils to try to avoid the use of bailiffs by supporting those who are struggling.  Offering a different day to pay, sorting out suitable repayment plans and putting them in touch with debt charities like ourselves could keep the bailiffs at bay.”

Citizens Advice is calling on councils to sign up to its good practice protocol on council tax debts. The protocol includes commitments such as promoting help that’s available to those who are struggling and highlighting different payment date options for council tax payers so they can budget more effectively.

Figures released last week from Citizens Advice found 1 in 5 people who have a bailiff problem are working parents.

A third of the 60,000 bailiff problems Citizens Advice helped with between April 2012 and March 2013 were for council tax debts.

Evidence from Citizens Advice Bureaux has found private bailiffs frequently overstate their powers, act aggressively and bump up debts by levying excessive and illegal fees and charges.

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice analysed a representative sample its clients who have a bailiff problem. The study looked at 13,444 people who came to Citizens Advice between January and March 2013 with a bailiff problem.
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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 our quarterly publication Advice trends
  5. 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).
  6. Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,500 service outlets across England and Wales.