Sharp rise in Shropshire and Telford councils use of bailiffs to collect debts
Councils in Shropshire instructed bailiffs to collect unpaid debts on more than 13,000 occasions in 12 months – a sharp increase on two years ago.
In the 12 months up until April this year, Telford & Wrekin Council instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 7,134 occasions – an increase of 21 per cent since 2014/15.
Over the same time period, Shropshire Council instructed bailiffs 6,029 times, up 14 per cent on the figure for two years ago.
For both authorities, unpaid council tax was the biggest cause of enforcement action, accounting for 6,226 visits in Telford & Wrekin, and 4,413 in Shropshire.
In Shropshire, parking fees were the second biggest cause for the use of bailiffs, accounting for 1,152 visits, followed by business rate arrears, which resulted in 459 calls.
In Telford & Wrekin, overpayments of housing benefits were the second biggest cause of enforcement action, accounting for 515 visits, followed by non-payment of business rates which led to 372 calls, and commercial rent arrears which led to 21 calls.
Over the border, Powys County Council instructed bailiffs to collect debts on 3,046 occasions, an increase of four per cent compared to 2014/15. Council tax debts led to 1,943 of the visits, followed by parking fees which represented 339, housing benefit overpayments which were responsible for 160 of the calls, and business rate arrears which led to 100 calls.
Nationally, the use of bailiffs by local authorities has increased by 14 per cent over the past two years, with a total of 2.3 million visits over the 2016/7 financial year.
Russell Griffin, of Telford & Wrekin Council, said the 21 per cent increase included repeat visits where bailiffs had previously failed to recover debt.
He added: “There has been a 12 per cent decrease in current year council tax arrears being sent to the enforcement agents in 2016/17 compared to 2014/15, which indicates that more people are paying their council tax on time. The council encourages anyone who is struggling to pay to make contact immediately to agree a mutually suitable payment arrangement.”
He said the authority was in the process of agreeing a debt recovery process with Citizens Advice Bureau.
Nobody from Shropshire Council was available for comment.
Councillor Claire Kober of the Local Government Association said councils had a duty to their residents to collect taxes.
“No council wants to ask people on the lowest incomes to pay more, but taxes fund crucial services, such as caring for the elderly, protecting vulnerable children, keeping roads maintained and collecting bins,” she said.
“With councils facing a £5.8 billion funding shortfall by 2020, it’s essential that these funds are collected so these vital services can be protected.
“Before councils use bailiffs, which are only ever used as a last resort, people will have been encouraged to apply for monetary support and efforts will have been made to either attach the debt to a salary or arrange new payment plans.”