Northampton Borough Council used bailiffs to collect debts more than 11,000 times last year

Council use of bailiffs has come under fire in a new report by the Money Advice Trust.
Council use of bailiffs has come under fire in a new report by the Money Advice Trust.

Bailiffs were called in to collect debts for Northampton Borough Council on more than 11,000 occasions last year, a shock study has revealed -  just weeks after a council branded the practice as "medieval".

In 2016/17, Northampton Borough Council instructed bailiffs or debt collection companies - to recover debts from individuals and businesses on 11,591 occasions.

Northampton Borough Council used bailiffs more than 11,000 times last year, a new study has found.

Northampton Borough Council used bailiffs more than 11,000 times last year, a new study has found.

Most of the amount recovered was for council tax arrears, but external companies were also used to recover funds for overpaid housing benefit and business rates.

The research by the Money Advice Trust, comes as part of the charity's Stop the Knock campaign, which calls for an end to a practice that often sees bailiffs attending the properties of those in arrears to recover goods.

Chief executive Joanna Elson OBE said: “Councils are under enormous financial pressure, and they, of course, need to recover what they are owed in order to fund vital services.

“However, many councils are far too quick to turn to bailiff action – which we know can seriously harm the wellbeing of residents who are often already in vulnerable situations. It can also push people even further into debt.”

The research comes just weeks after Hammersith and Fulham Council announced it would stop using bailiffs as the practice was "medieval".

“Heavy-handed debt collection in the public sector is counter-productive: court action, bailiffs and lawyers all cost money, and can create high levels of stress and anxiety in families that find themselves in debt,” said Councillor Max Schmid, the authority's cabinet member for finance.

The Money Advice Trust issued Freedom of Information requests to 352 local authorities across the UK as part of its research for Stop the Knock.

Northampton Borough Council's use of bailiffs has decreased by 29 per cent since the last study of this sort in 2014/15.

In 2016/17 council tax was the cause of arrears on 9,349 occasions, housing benefit overpayments on 1,050, business rates on 305 and other debt types on the remaining 887 times.

The figures include times bailiffs were sent out to the same address twice, so each referal does not neccesarily refer to a different household.

Councillor Brandon Eldred, cabinet member for finance at Northampton Borough Council, said: “The council is committed to working with customers to agree affordable payment plans, where they are struggling to pay a debt.

"Part of any discussion is to ensure that customers are sign-posted to, and are in receipt of any support they are entitled to. We work closely with the voluntary sector, who provide independent debt advice, and only use bailiffs as a last resort.

“As a local authority, we offer a money advice service and would ask anyone who has debt worries to contact us on (0300 330 7000) and speak to an advisor.”