High Peak council’s bailiff calls on the rise

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Concerns are mounting for people in debt as new figures report that local authorities’ use of bailiffs has been rising sharply over recent years.

According to new research by the Money Advice Trust, the charity behind National Debtline, High Peak Borough Council called on bailiffs 1,535 times during 2014-15—a dramatic 41 per cent increase since 2012.

The council instructs bailiffs - or enforcement officers - to collect debts owed to it by individuals and businesses.

Experts says the figures, revealed by the council after a Freedom of Information request, show more needs to be done to help those in financial difficulty at an earlier stage.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the trust, said: “Councils are facing significant funding pressures and they of course have a duty to collect what they are owed to ensure funding for the services that local people rely on.

“The council’s use of bailiffs, however, remains too high. On the front line of debt advice we know that it can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them.

“It can also have a severe impact on the wellbeing of people who are often already in a vulnerable situation.”

The charity is calling for enforcement agents to be used only as a last resort, with greater focus on preventative work, early detection and intervention where residents and businesses fall behind.

Ms Elson added: “It is also a poor deal for the council taxpayer. Our research shows that councils who use bailiffs the most are actually less effective at collecting council tax arrears.”

A spokesman for High Peak said: “If any residents or businesses are struggling with council tax the council would strongly advise them to get in touch for help and advice.

“People should do this sooner rather than later because we do have to follow the regulations and processes which govern recovery of council tax.

“Anyone who is experiencing difficulties can call us on 0345 129 7777.

“We’re sympathetic to individual circumstances but there is an element of personal responsibility on the part of customers.

“Moreover, sensitivity to customers’ circumstances has to be balanced against the interests of the vast majority of residents who pay when due.”

Recent figures show that High Peak has £1.4 million in unpaid council tax arrears. Its use of enforcement officers ranks 219 out of 326 nationally.