Citizens advice warn of council tax “D-Day”: Bailiffs to chase debts again under new rules

Council tax debts have hit worryingly high levels in recent months according to Citizens Advice. According to their findings, over 1.3 million households have likely built up tax arrears due to coronavirus.


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Due to how dire the situation has become, Citizens Advice, the Money Advice Trust and Stepchange have joined forces, calling on the government to implement measures that could protect millions of people from spiralling into debt problems.

These changes could be desperately needed given new legislation that came into effect on Wednesday June 24.

The new legislation detailed that the ban on physical bailiff visits will come to an end on August 23.

This coincidentally is the same day as protections from evictions end for people who are renting, potentially creating a concoction of financial problems.

The three charities involved in the warning detailed that these changes could create huge problems for those who have fallen behind on council tax.

They warned that if/when councils resort to using bailiffs for the collection of council tax debts, it can create a costly burden that affects us all.

As their analysis detailed, in 2018-19 the use of bailiffs added £200 million of fees to people’s debts, but councils themselves only recovered less than 30p out of every pound of debt chased.

These figures could be made even worse in the coming months, given that over £500mllion of council tax debt has gone unpaid during the pandemic according to the Local Government Association.

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The leaders of all three charities have each commented on the situation, urging the parties involved to take drastic action for the benefit of struggling families:

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice

Dame Gillian highlighted that time is worryingly limited in this area: “The government now has a two-month window of opportunity to make changes to council tax collection that will help millions of people facing the prospect of spiralling debt. Over the last few years, Citizens Advice has helped hundreds of thousands of people with council tax arrears.

“Using bailiffs to collect debts is a blunt tool that’s extraordinarily damaging to those on the receiving end, and economically ineffective for councils. Former government ministers, backbenchers, charities, campaigners and councils themselves are lining up to call for change on this issue.

“People struggling with their council tax bills could now face a nervous summer waiting for the knock at the door. The government must take the opportunity to act to help people avoid this.”


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Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust

Joanna implored for an overall show of compassion: “There is an urgent need for changes to the way that council tax is collected before bailiff visits are allowed to resume.

“The government must act to change the rules to ensure local authorities collect council tax debts in a fair and compassionate way, giving people the time they need to repay without unnecessarily resorting to bailiffs.

“Sadly, millions of people have already fallen behind with their bills – these changes are needed now to prevent a bad financial situation being made worse by heavy-handed debt collection practices.”

Phil Andrew, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity

Finally, Phil concluded with criticism of the apparent disconnect between expectations and reality: “As things stand, there is a fundamental disconnect between the way in which enforcement against debts like council tax is being restarted and the way in which regulated lenders are expected and required to behave by the FCA, with a clear focus on realistic affordability and fair treatment.

It’s simply not right that, after everything we’ve experienced through the pandemic, the resumption of council tax debt collection and enforcement seems set to resume on a “business as usual” basis.

“Improving council tax debt collection needs to be part of the Government’s wider post-Covid financial recovery strategy. If ever there was a time to grasp the nettle and reform the outdated mechanisms that hinder local authorities from adopting a more compassionate, flexible and realistic way of reaching affordable repayment plans on council tax, now is surely that moment.”

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