• Bailiffs enforcing council tax debts as low as £50

    Attachment 103
    Credit Strategy have published this article: Bailiffs enforcing debts as low as £50.

    According to a report by Stepchange, local authorities using bailiffs to collect council tax are reported by the charity's clients as being the most unfair. The main complaints were regarding intimidation and the addition of excessive fees to the debts. There were also concerns regarding lack of consideration for vulnerabilities such as illness and mental health conditions.

    Councils are acting too quickly to use bailiffs when pursuing council tax debt, a report has claimed. The Citizens Advice Cymru said council tax debt was the biggest debt problem it saw last year and itís witnessing a growing problem with tax debt enforcement. The report also found that attempts to pursue enforcement action were sometimes for debts as low as £50.
    BAILIFF FEES ARE EXCESSIVE

    51% of bailiff visits experienced by Stepchange's clients were related to council tax enforcement and more than half of the charity's clients complained about the fees being excessive. Bailiff fees are a great concern, as they can quickly turn what started out as a relatively small debt into an unmanageable one. Use our bailiff and HCEO fees calculator to see how much can be added to a debt once bailiffs get involved.

    It's true that local authorities have a duty to ensure efficient council tax collection, otherwise it would open the door for people simply not paying the tax and the councils will be forced to increase the tax for those who do pay it, which would be highly unfair. However, bailiff involvement should be a last resort. See council tax arrears. Some local authorities start by issuing an enforcement notice without giving debtors the opportunity to make other arrangements. As soon as the notice of enforcement is issued, a £75 compliance stage fee is automatically added to the debt. When the debt is just £50 (the minimum currently collectable using bailiffs), this would amount to 150% of the debt.

    If enforcement progresses to the next stage, a £235 enforcement stage fee is charged when the bailiff pays a visit. Although bailiffs collecting council tax do no have the power to use reasonable force to gain entry and debtors are not obliged to open the door or let the bailiffs in, the fee is charge regardless of whether the bailiff is allowed entry or not. See bailiffs and bailiff fees and costs. If the debtor has a vehicle parked outside their property, this vehicle can be clamped and, in some cases, even vehicles not belonging to the debtor have been seized. See bailiffs and motor vehicles.

    VULNERABILITY

    One concern for local authorities and the enforcement industry is the increase in people claiming to be "vulnerable" as defined in the Taking Control of Goods National Standards Guidance which lists a number of circumstances under which debtors may be classed as vulnerable. These include:
    • the disabled
    • the elderly
    • people suffering from a serious illness
    • pregnant women
    • single parents
    • people with poor understanding of English
    • people with mental health conditions
    • the recently bereaved
    • unemployed people.

    As can be seen, the list includes the groups of people who are most likely to fall behind with their debts.

    WHAT DO THE FORUMS SAY?

    The issues surrounding bailiffs, particularly the repayment of enforcement fees and the clamping of vehicles have given rise to some of the fiercest and most open inter-forum wars, with opinions deeply divided between those who say one thing and those who state all the opposite. The fact that the whole industry was completely overhauled with the introduction of the new regulations just over two years ago has contributed to even deeper divisions between the main consumer forums as well as more specialist ones as well as social media groups.

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