Calls for Councils to Hold Off on Use of Bailiffs

July 14, 2020

Debtors should be granted protections from bailiffs chasing council tax arrears in the second half of 2020 because so many people are struggling financially through little fault of their own.

That’s the view of the debt help charity StepChange, which is warning that millions of pounds of extra debt could be added to the arrears of people across the UK if bailiffs are given free rein to pursue debts owed to local authorities.

The charity insists that fees involved in hiring bailiffs and pursuing debtors through the courts will make matters much worse for lots of people who are already grappling with tough financial circumstances.

Council tax is cited as a particular point of concern by StepChange because so many households have gone into arrears on that front since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The feeling at StepChange is that the central government should be stepping in to insist that local councils are not as proactive as they might otherwise be in collecting council tax debts.

The charity has said: “We’re calling for the government to introduce a statutory pre-action protocol for council tax that would require councils to take certain steps before seeking a liability order for bailiff enforcement action.”

StepChange’s own research published in May indicates that there are roughly 820,000 people across the UK who fell into council tax arrears as a result of the pandemic.

Its estimates are that around £500 million worth of accumulated council tax debts would grow by around £158 million if bailiffs costs and court fees are allowed to apply.

Plans are currently in place for local authorities to resume their use of bailiffs from August 23rd.

“The issue of how commonly local authorities use bailiffs to enforce unpaid debts, piling shocking levels of fees and fear onto already struggling households, seems to go unnoticed as the Cinderella of the debt recovery landscape,” said StepChange’s chief executive Phil Andrew in a statement.

“That is wrong at any time, but in the wake of coronavirus it needs urgent attention,” he said.

Paul Barber

Head Adviser at our Manchester Office

Tel: 0800 001 4247

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