Council sent bailiffs out 6,000 times

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East Riding Council sent bailiffs to recover debt owed to it nearly 6,000 times last year, new figures have revealed.

The authority instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 5,884 occasions in 2014/15 - which is down four per cent on its figures two years ago.

The number of debts passed to bailiffs was equivalent to 3.6 per cent of properties in the area, ranking the council at 208 of 326 for local authority bailiff use in England and Wales.

Of the 5,884 uses 3,981 were for unpaid council tax, 1,371 were parking related and 136 were due to non-payment of business rates.

A further 396 occasions were due to housing benefit overpayments.

A council spokesperson said: “The East Riding of Yorkshire Council has a duty of care to diligently collect council tax, business rates and council housing rent for the benefit of all our residents.

“As such, we work with council tax payers, businesses and our tenants to offer convenient methods of payment and support and advice to help pay what is owed and to avoid recovery action wherever possible.

“Where an account remains unpaid, we may refer the case to an enforcement agent (formerly known as a bailiff) to help secure payment. However, before we do so, we try to use other methods of recovery such as attachments to earnings or benefits where appropriate

“We would ask that council tax payers, businesses and tenants in financial difficulties contact the Council as early as possible so that we can look at ways the council can help make payments manageable and ensure suitable payment arrangements are in place to avoid recovery action.”

According to the charity Money Advice Trust (Mat), which collected the data after a Freedom of Information request to every council in England and Wales, the use of bailiffs, now legally known as enforcement agents, is up 16 per cent in the past two years, with 2.1 million bailiff referrals for April 2014 to March 2015.

“The way the private sector, such as banks and credit card and even utility companies, collect their debt has totally changed,” said a spokesman for Mat. “They have invested a lot of time and energy in looking at debt collection. They will look at affordability and will often enter into repayment schedules.

Local authorities have just been left behind. They are far too quick to call on the bailiff,” he added.

Analysis of the top 10 users show they succeeded in collecting just 22 per cent of council tax arrears, while those 10 councils at the bottom of the league have a much higher success rate at 31 per cent.

“We need our councils to vastly decrease their use of bailiffs. All the research shows the earlier people can get help the better.

“There is not just a business cost here but a human cost too,” said Mat.