Bailiffs sent in more than 2m times last year, says charity

Council flat Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Households in debt have been receiving more visits from bailiffs

Local authorities in England and Wales used bailiffs to collect debts more than 2 million times last year, according to new research.

The Money Advice Trust (MAT), which carried out the study, said that amounted to a 16% increase over the last two years.

It said that sending in bailiffs was likely to make debt problems worse.

Local authorities blamed cuts in government funding, and said bailiffs were only ever used as a last resort.

Enforcement agents, as they are officially known, were mainly used to collect Council Tax debts.

Such debts are one of the fastest growing issues being handled by National Debtline, which is run by the MAT.

Rising debts

"Something is seriously wrong here," said Joanna Elson, the chief executive of the MAT.

"On the front line of debt advice we know that sending the bailiffs in can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them - and it can also have a severe impact on the wellbeing of people who are often already in a vulnerable situation."

For its research the MAT made freedom of information requests to all 375 councils in England and Wales, and received replies from 95% of them.

Image copyright Getty Images

National Debtline for England and Wales 0808 808 4000

National Debtline for Scotland 0808 808 4000

But local authorities say they have been given little choice, given the reduction in government support to councils.

Overall authorities have had to cope with a 40% cut in core government funding over the last five years, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).

In particular, they have had to find £1bn to try and stop those on low incomes having to pay full Council Tax.

But many of those on low incomes have still ended up having to pay more, and have fallen into debt as a result.

'Sympathetic approach'

"Councils have a duty to their residents to collect taxes so important services like caring for the elderly, collecting bins and fixing roads are not affected," said Cllr Claire Kober, the chair of the LGA's Resources Board.

"But we realise that times are tough and will always seek to take a sympathetic and constructive approach."

She also said that bailiffs were only used as a last resort. Before they were sent in, she said that householders would have received several warning letters, and would have been encouraged to apply for financial support.

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