Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Tories welcome checks on “heavy-handed” bailiffs

THURROCK Conservatives have welcomed new guidance governing the use of bailiffs issued by government last week.

Deputy Leader Cllr Gledhill said “Every penny owed to the Council that is not collected means higher charges for Thurrock residents who do pay on time. When residents don’t pay on time they risk the debt being passed to bailiffs. On the flip side the council has the responsibility to be fair and proportionate when collecting what is owed.

“Since Labour took control of Thurrock complaints against their heavy handed actions when collecting local taxation have increased to be more than the rest of Essex combined. So it is clear they are failing in their duty. Many of those who contact Thurrock Conservatives on this complain of aggressive bailiffs, charges for visits that were never made and unnecessary costs being added to accounts. Whilst the debt should have been paid, there is no excuse for some of the tactics and poor practice we have seen.”

The new guidance makes it clear that Councils are now responsible for the action of their outsourced bailiffs. It is also makes clear any bailiff who makes phantom visits or applies unlawful charges faces action from the Police. Figures suggest that the top 5 bailiff firms made as much as £60 million last year and complaints about their actions have soared by 38% in 5 years.

Councillor Gledhill added “With Labour being forced into taking action to collect £100,000’s of uncollected parking fines, I can see the use of bailiffs increasing significantly. This new guidance will mean residents who haven’t paid will have more protection from rogue bailiffs and recourse when things go wrong.

“However Labour run Thurrock Council needs to take a long hard look at its own collection practices to ensure they firm but fair not aggressive and bullying.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. “The new guidance makes it clear that Councils are now responsible for the action of their outsourced bailiffs. It is also makes clear any bailiff who makes phantom visits or applies unlawful charges faces action from the Police.”

    So in that event the Council will face action from the Police too? Cllr Kent in jail, or a fine which we will all have to pay?

  2. News story from DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government)

    “Clampdown on councils using heavy-handed bailiffsOrganisation:Department for Communities and Local Government
    Published:17 June 2013Policy:Making local councils more transparent and accountable to local peopleMinister:The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP…Eric Pickles today set out plans to tackle the use of heavy-handed bailiffs by councils to protect people from unfair treatment.

    New guidelines for councils set out that they should no longer be collecting ‘contractual kickbacks’ from bailiffs or employing those seeking to exploit residents through ‘phantom visits’ or excessive fees. Figures suggest the five biggest bailiff companies earn a combined revenue in excess of £60 million.

    The steps taken today fulfil a coalition government pledge to provide more protection for the public against aggressive bailiffs and unreasonable charges.

    The Citizens Advice recently found there had been a 38% increase in complaints about private bailiffs over the last five years. Almost nine in ten bailiff problems the charity deals with relate to private bailiffs, who collect debts such as council tax and parking penalties.

    Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:

    “It is unacceptable for councils to employ burly bailiffs with heavy-handed tactics like kicking down doors, making phantom visits or charging excessive fees – it is unfair and damages a council’s standing in the community.

    “Today our new guidance is crystal clear: it is time to stop the dodgy practices where town halls collect contractual kickbacks from bailiffs that will do almost anything to make money.”

    Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

    “A third of the bailiff problems we help with each year are for council tax debt. We see cases where bailiffs overstate their powers, act aggressively and bump up debts by levying excessive fees and charges. Local authorities must protect people from bailiffs who flout the law by helping people early on who are struggling to pay their council tax. We urge councils to sign up to our protocol for dealing with council tax debt.”

    Ending ‘phantom visits’
    The guidance will put a stop to the worrying practice where some bailiffs undertake ‘phantom visits’ – charging inflated fees for putting a letter through a door – while not actually making any realistic attempt to speak to people or negotiate payment plans. Any such practices should be grounds for termination of a contract with fraudulent activity reported to the police as a criminal offence.

    Ceasing council kickbacks
    Further protections make it clear that it is inappropriate for councils to receive extra payment or profit-sharing from the use of bailiffs and the charging of fees. Contracts should not involve rewards or penalties which incentivise the use of bailiffs where it would not otherwise be justified.

    Further protections
    •bailiffs providing the debtor with a contact number should they wish to speak to the billing authority;
    •local councils remaining responsible for the action of bailiffs they have contracted;
    •in-house bailiffs having to explicitly state that they are part of the local authority;
    •councils publishing their standard scale of fees on their website, to allow public scrutiny and highlight unreasonable practices; and
    •actively encouraging councils to sign up to that good practice protocol
    Futher information
    This guidance replaces the previous Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) Guidance, ODPM Council Tax Collection Good Practice, published in 2005.

    View the full document, Guidance to Local Authorities on good practice in the collection of council tax arrears.
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/council-tax

    50 ways to save

    Citizens Advice online guide to bailiffs.

    http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/debt_e/debt_action_your_creditor_can_take_e/debt_bailiffs_e.htm

    Hope this is helpful – Vince Offord

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