Is the Use of Bailiffs in England and Wales Excessive? 

A charity has recently discovered that last year, councils in England and Wales called upon the use of bailiffs on over two million occasions to recover debt. The Money Advice Trust confirmed that around 60% of these debts were council tax arrears meaning that bailiffs have been targeting vulnerable individuals who are most likely on a low-income.

More Can Be Done for Those on Low-Income

The Trust, which runs National Debtline, believes that more could be done for vulnerable households and individuals who are in debt. However, the association who represents councils said they have a duty to collect taxes in order to use the money for essential government funding and investment.

The report found that in 2016/17, enforcement agents, more commonly known as bailiffs were used to chase council tax arrears around 1.38 million times, unpaid parking fines 810,000 times, unpaid business rates 86,000 times, and overpaid housing benefits on 50,000 occasions. This was uncovered as part of the ‘Stop the Knock’ report gathered by the Money Advice Trust in which they are working to prevent bailiffs being used so frivolously.

Bailiffs Should Be a Last Resort

Compared to two years ago, the use of bailiffs has risen by 14% when similar research was carried out by the same charity. With this in mind, however, the charity found that there had been a large improvement in the way in which councils used bailiff action. But 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.”

Sadly, she believes that use of bailiff action can actually force vulnerable people to spiral into more debt. This is because they’re being ‘forced’ to pay debts that they already cannot afford to pay back. Instead of using the last resort of bailiff action, there needs to be closer consideration as to what other options there are.

Introducing Alternative Options

The Trust advocates that councils should sign up to an official policy on how to treat vulnerable residents. This would mean that the most vulnerable individuals would be exempt from bailiff action entirely. The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said those who come up against financial issues should contact their local authority to discuss alternative options such as repayment plans.

Keep on Top

It’s important that those who find themselves in a similar situation take action to keep on top instead of letting their financial situation to get out of control. It can be hard, but with the right support and advice, it is possible to get back on track.

Consider speaking to a financial adviser, local council representative or even get in touch with a charity such as the Money Advice Trust.

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