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Councils in England and Wales called in bailiffs to collect unpaid debts on more than two million occasions last year.
Enforcement agents, more commonly known as bailiffs, were most frequently sent to collect council tax arrears, but that they were also used to collect unpaid parking fines, unpaid business rates and overpaid housing benefit.
With bailiffs called in on 2.3 million occasions, the use of ‘last resort’ enforcement action by councils has increased 14% compared with two years ago.
The Money Advice Trust, which runs the National Debtline has urged the government to do more to help vulnerable people in debt.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “The growing use of bailiffs to collect debts by many local authorities is deeply troubling.
“Councils are under enormous financial pressure, and they of course need to recover what they are owed in order to fund vital services. However, many councils are far too quick to turn to bailiff action.”
She added: “Bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention.”
Not just councils
Separate figures show that that more legal action is being taken against consumers who don’t pay their debts.
Figures published in the Financial Times show that 910,345 County Court Judgements (CCJs) were filed in the nine months to the end of September, representing a 34% increase on the same period in 2016.
At the onset of the financial crisis, only 827,000 CCJs were filed in 2008, suggesting that creditors are more likely to turn to litigation to reclaim unpaid debts.
Umbrella Accountants Licensed Insolvency Practitioner Thomas Fox said: “More litigation and enforcement action from councils and private companies is symptomatic of Britain’s burgeoning debt crisis. Higher borrowing through credit cards, overdrafts and car loans coupled with limp growth in real incomes is a concern for many families.
“It may also show that councils and debt collection agencies are willing to behave more aggressively to collect past debts. If you are in debt, you should be aware that you may find it harder to borrow in future if you are the subject of a CCJ or bailiff action because this acts as a red flag to other lenders.”
There are options to help you combat your debt problems. Speak to a member of the Umbrella debt support team today. Call: 0800 611 8888.
A quick guide to dealing with bailiffs
- Don’t open the door to a bailiff. Make sure any children under the age of 16 know not to answer the door – bailiffs can’t enter a property if a child (under 16) is alone in the house.
- If you do open the door make sure you stand firm in the door way, most bailiffs can’t push past you to gain entry.
- Only certain types of bailiff have the legal right to enter your property without your permission and they must have a court order granting them the right to use force to enter. If a bailiff has no court order and forces their way into your home then you can file a complaint against them.
- When a bailiff has been in your home once then they are able to enter again with or without permission (with the use of force) to remove your possessions.
- If a bailiff behaves in a threatening or harassing manner then you may be able to get action against you dropped. For this reason you may want to film the bailiff.
- If you have a car that’s not subject to a hire purchase or another finance scheme then make sure it’s not parked in front of your house or on a driveway. Park it in a locked garage or around the corner because bailiffs are permitted to take this away.
- You don’t need to speak to bailiffs if you don’t want to. Bear in mind that any information you give them (such as what you own) can be used against you.
- Ask the bailiff for their authorisation. The bailiff should have an ID badge or a court order relating to your address. If they can’t provide this then you shouldn’t engage with them.
- Keep curtains closed so they can’t eye up possessions from the outside.
- If you have the money to pay debts then you can do this through the bailiff. Just remember to ask for a receipt of payment.
- Friends and family can help offer support and help you deal with bailiffs more confidently.
- Get in touch with us immediately and we can provide extra advice.