Council tax support options explained as Boris Johnson lifts debt collection suspension

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The government’s five-month emergency suspension on bailiffs – now legally known as enforcement agents – has come to an end. Ahead of the ban lifting, the Ministry of Justice published public health guidance relating to the Taking Control of Goods process last week, with this stating bailiffs should “avoid unduly raising their voice” – due to the potential for increased risk of transmission during the coronavirus crisis.

Now, those who are behind on bills – especially council tax – are at risk of having bailiffs knocking on their door, Citizens Advice has warned.

Official figures show £3.6billion in council tax was owed before the COVID-19 outbreak.

The charity network has raised concerns that many of those who are now in debt may never escape it.

And as research finds one in nine people (six million people nationwide) have fallen behind on a household bill because of coronavirus, Citizens Advice has outlined some forms of financial support which may be out there.

Lorraine Charlton, debt expert at Citizens Advice, said: “Bailiffs haven’t been able to visit your house since March 27, but can do so from Sunday [August 23].

“All bailiffs should send you a letter before they visit, to check if you’re more vulnerable because of coronavirus.

“They should also follow government guidance on social distancing.

“Many bailiffs have also made a voluntary commitment to take into account vulnerability or financial hardship caused by coronavirus and refer people to debt advisors in those circumstances.

“If they’re collecting debts owed to your local council, court fines or child maintenance they should give you 30 days’ notice before they visit.

“They shouldn’t enter your home to take your goods – they should only talk to you, collect money or give you documents.”

Ms Charlton continued: “Bailiffs usually have 12 months to collect a debt, from the date they send their first letter to you.

“This letter is called a ‘notice of enforcement’.

“If the 12 month deadline fell during the period of the ban on visits i.e. the notice of enforcement is dated March 27 2019 to September 22 2019, then the bailiffs will automatically have an additional 12 months to collect the debt.

“Speak to your local Citizens Advice about the best way to deal with this extension.

“If the bailiff has already been into your home and listed things you own, you need to carry on making agreed payments.

“If you can’t afford to pay, contact the bailiff and the organisation you owe money to, and speak to your local Citizens Advice.”

Support when it comes to council tax is something which Anna Stevenson, welfare benefits expert at Turn2us, has spoken about, while discussing different forms of financial support for those struggling to make ends meet.

She told Express.co.uk: “The benefits system isn’t just Universal Credit.

“So, it would be a good idea if people haven’t to just run a benefit calculation and check whether there’s any other benefits they ought to be entitled to.”

Among the support is Council Tax Reduction – something she highlighted.

She said of the means-tested discount: “It’s a benefit to help people with the cost of council tax.”

“You can check whether you’re entitled to it using our calculator,” she added.

“It’s really really under-claimed. That’s a good way of dealing with a Council Tax bill.”

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