THURROCK Council used bailiffs over 6,000 times last year.
The figures have just been released from a Freedom of Information Act request by the Money Advice Trust as part of their “Stop The Knock” campaign.
On 4482 occasions they were used to enforce council tax payments in Thurrock. 1792 calls were in relation to parking offences.
The Trust, which runs National Debtline, said more could be done for the vulnerable 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 said that, in doing so, people could be pushed even further into debt.
“Bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention,” she added.
Some 50 councils had signed up to a protocol aimed at preventing those at risk from getting behind on key payments.
The Trust wanted more councils to sign up to an official policy on how to treat vulnerable residents, and to exempt the most vulnerable from bailiff action completely.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said people facing difficulties should contact their local authority to discuss options such as repayment plans.
Claire Kober, who chairs the LGA’s resources board, said: “No council wants to ask people on the lowest incomes to pay more, but councils have a duty to their residents to collect taxes – these fund crucial services, such as caring for the elderly, protecting vulnerable children, keeping roads maintained and collecting bins.
“With councils facing a £5.8bn funding shortfall by 2020, it is essential that these funds are collected so these vital services can be protected.”
She said that councils took steps, where possible, to ensure people in financial difficulty were supported.
Here are the questions they submitted to Thurrock Council.
1) The number of times between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, or the nearest available twelve month period, that private bailiffs/enforcement agents have been instructed to enforce debts to the local authority relating to each of the following;
a. Council tax
c. Housing Benefit overpayments
d. Business Rates
e. Commercial Rents
f. Any other debt types, including any other overpayments
By “private bailiffs/enforcement agents” we mean those who are self-employed or who work for private companies, including as high court enforcement officers. Please include cases where local authority employees have visited a property to execute a warrant.
2) The number of:
a. Residential properties:
b. Business properties:
that fall within this local authority area.
3) Do you signpost residents to one or more free debt advice agencies as part of your collections process? If so, which charities?
4) Have you adopted the Standard Financial Statement (or Common Financial Statement) as a tool for objectively assessing income and expenditure as part of your collections process?
5) Do you have a formal policy in place for dealing with residents in vulnerable circumstances as part of your collections process?
6) Do you currently have a policy of exempting recipients of Council Tax Support from the use of bailiff action?
7) Have you adopted the Citizens Advice/Local Government Association Council Tax Protocol?
a. 4482 (All years, not just in year billing)
d. 126 (All years, not just in year billing)
3) Yes – Citizen Advice – Money Advice – Stepchange
7) Discussion is underway with the Citizens Advice Bureau
A large number of other councils also responded.
In 2016/17, Harlow Council instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 2,254 occasions – a decrease of 48% since 2014/15.
In 2016/17, Colchester Borough Council instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 15,048 occasions – an increase of 67% since 2014/15.
In 2016/17, Chelmsford City Council instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 4,606 occasions – an increase of 71% since 2014/15.
In 2016/17, London Borough of Havering instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 1,761 occasions.
In 2016/17, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 16,281 occasions – a decrease of 52% since 2014/15.
But when it came to Thurrock, there was a terse one line response: Thurrock Council declined to answer our Freedom of Information request (either in full or in part).