The use of bailiffs to collect debts owed to local councils in England and Wales has risen by 7% in the past two years – driven largely by a surge in parking tickets, figures show.
More than 2.6 million debts were passed over to bailiffs by local authorities in 2018/19 according to charity the National Debtline.
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 and other debts owed to councils.
However, the charity said it's seen a particularly worrying rise in the number of councils referring to bailiffs over parking tickets.
It said 1.4million households have had their addresses shared over outstanding council tax payments – with three in 10 callers to the National Debtline getting in touch over the household bill.
Have you had a bad experience with a bailiff or your local authority? Get in touch: [email protected]
A further 1.1 million were related to parking debts – a 21% like-for-like increase on the same period in 2016/17.
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.
It comes after the Ministry of Justice announced all debt collectors must now wear body cameras by law, earlier this year.
The Government is also currently consulting on a new 'breathing space' scheme that will block creditors from chasing those most at risk, for 60 days .
Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline , 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. While we have seen a modest improvement in debt collection practices – and more councils reducing their use of bailiffs to collect council tax arrears – the pace of change is too slow.
"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 they need, and agreeing repayment arrangements that are affordable and sustainable."
The Money Advice Trust's six ways councils can improve their services
Make a clear public commitment to reduce bailiff use over time
Review signposting to free debt advice, including phone/online channels
Adopt the Standard Financial Statement to objectively assess affordability
Put in place a formal policy covering residents in vulnerable circumstances
Exempt Council Tax Support recipients from bailiff action (in England*)
Sign up to the Citizens Advice/LGA Council Tax Protocol (in England*) and review current practice against the Money and Pensions Service ‘Supportive Council Tax Recovery’ toolkit.
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