Bailiffs sent by councils to collect 2.1 million UK debts last year

September 1, 2015

Lucy_2 (Custom)By Lucy Palmer-Richeson

Local authorities have been relying on bailiffs more and more to recover unpaid debts, according to debt charity the Money Advice Trust.

The charity said in a report that councils sent bailiffs to collect debts 2.1 million times in the last 12 months, a 16% increase on the previous year, when bailiffs were sent out 1.8 million times.

Most of the debt recovered was council tax debt, with enforcement agents being sent out 1.27 million times. Parking-related debts were also high on the list of collected debts with 715,000 call-outs.

Bailiffs were also sent out to retrieve around 40,000 benefit overpayments as well as unpaid business and commercial rate debts.

The Money Advice Trust said that it has been shown that bailiffs are not the most effective way of recovering debt, and yet local authorities continue to use them in large numbers. Showing concern for the practice, Joanna Elson OBE, Chief Executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “Our experience through National Debtline shows us first-hand how bailiffs can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them.

“Local authorities seem to be assuming that anyone not paying debts is a ‘won’t pay’, rather than a ‘can’t pay’. In today’s economy, with real incomes having fallen consistently for many years, more and more people are falling into the ‘can’t pay’ bracket – sending the bailiffs in to collect these debts can be very destructive, both financially and psychologically.”

She added, “Our message is clear – bailiffs should only be used as an absolute last resort.”

The largest use of enforcement agents (relative to its size) to collect debt was in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, with 34,041 call-outs during the last year, which equates to 43% of properties in the area.

Only three councils were found to have used no enforcement agents last year – Charnwood, Wyre and the Isles of Scilly.