Bailiff visits increase as Council Tax benefits cut

According to Citizens Advice, increasing numbers of low income households could be at the mercy of aggressive bailiffs because of recent cuts in council tax benefits.

The charity has received over 20,000 calls seeking advice about bailiffs and 37,000 enquiries to their website regarding council tax from those struggling to cope with mounting debts.

Council tax benefit was axed in April this year and replaced by a local council tax support scheme which receives approximately 10% less government funding.  This has led to some councils making savings by reducing the number of people entitled to the benefit or cutting the amount of benefit paid out.

Citizens Advice have seen an 87% increase in callers worried about paying council tax since April last year.

Chief Executive Gillian Guy said;

“We’re concerned that the changes to council tax benefit will mean more people will end up in debt because they can’t pay their bill and have the bailiff knocking on the door.  Bailiffs often overstate their powers, deliberately frighten debtors and charge extortionate fees.  We want councils to help people get on top of their council tax debts so the use of bailiffs is no longer necessary.”

They warned that the benefit changes risk stoking a ‘boom time for bailiffs’ and was prepared for an influx of people being chased by debt collectors after being pushed into arrears.

Citizens Advice urged councils to use bailiffs only as a last resort and sign up to a “good practice” document which was drawn up jointly with the Local Government Association (LGA) to increase co-operation between councils and debt advice bodies and lessen the chances of councils turning to bailiffs.

According to recent figures from the Money Advice Trust, one fifth of callers to its National Debtline service are now asking for help with council tax arrears and the number of calls received has risen by 40% over the last five years.

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