Council use of bailiffs more than doubles in South Norfolk
PUBLISHED: 13:03 21 September 2019 | UPDATED: 08:47 23 September 2019
Copyright (C) Andrey Popov
The use of bailiffs to collect debts owed to South Norfolk Council has more than doubled over the last two years, a new report has revealed.
Bailiffs, now known officially as enforcement agents, have the right to visit a property to remove and sell goods to repay certain debts, including council tax arrears, parking notices and other debts owed to councils.
New research by the Money Advice Trust found in 2018/19, South Norfolk District Council instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 3,299 occasions - an increase of 161pc since 2016/17.
Freedom of information requests show that South Norfolk made 2,455 bailiff referrals over council tax, 717 related to Housing Benefit overpayments, while 127 were in connection with business rates.
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The charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline says that bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention, making sure residents get the free debt advice, and agreeing repayment arrangements that are affordable.
It has renewed its call for the government to implement a strategy to reduce the use of bailiffs and an accompanying complaints mechanism. The Ministry of Justice is currently reviewing the case for independent bailiff regulation, while the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is conducting a review of council tax collection.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the charity, said: "Bailiff action is harmful to people in debt - and the fact that local authorities are passing £2.6 million debts a year to bailiffs should concern us all.
"Reforming the law around bailiff action itself is vital if we are to protect people from harm - and we are today renewing our call for the government to introduce independent bailiff regulation and a single complaints mechanism. Of equal importance, however, is reducing the number of debts that are being passed to bailiffs in the first place."
The Money Advice Trust research also found Breckland District Council instructed bailiffs to collect debts on 2,694 occasions in 2018/19, a four per cent increase on 2016/17; while Mid Suffolk District Council used bailiffs on 972 occasions, an 18pc increase.
It looked at how councils manage debt collection and found 99pc, including South Norfolk, steer residents in financial difficulty towards free debt advice.