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Councils' use of bailiffs increases – with parking debts behind the surge

Councils' use of bailiffs increases – with parking debts behind the surge

Councils across England and Wales used bailiffs to collect 2.6 million debts in 2018/19, an increase of 7% in just two years.

The research was conducted by the Money Advice Trust (MAT) – which runs National Debtline and Business Debtline – via Freedom of Information requests, and found that parking debts were behind the increase.

The MAT's figures found parking debts were passed to bailiffs on nearly 1.1 million occasions in 2018/19 – a 21% like-for-like increase on the same period in 2016/17. The number of council tax debts passed to bailiffs remained stable at more than 1.4 million referrals in 2018/19.

The charity said 30% of the callers to its National Debtline last year had council tax arrears – up from just 15% in 2008. It said many of these callers are subject to bailiff action, with 83% of National Debtline callers who have experienced bailiff action reporting a negative impact on their wellbeing.

Fight unfair parking tickets with our Parking Ticket Appeals guide.

What is a bailiff and what are they allowed to do?

Bailiffs are sometimes referred to as 'enforcement agents' and may visit your home if you don't pay your debts – such as outstanding council tax bills, parking fines, court fines and county court or family court judgments. This can happen if you ignore letters saying that bailiffs will be used.

There are several rules that are worth knowing if they do visit, including:

  • They usually have to give seven days' notice of their first visit.
  • You don't have to let them in and they can't usually enter your home by force or by any entrance except a door.
  • They can't come between 9pm and 6am.
  • They can't come if only children under 16 or vulnerable people are present.
  • If you don't let a bailiff in or agree to pay them, they could take things from outside your home, such as your car.
  • If you do let a bailiff in but don't pay them, they may take some of your belongings from inside. They could sell the items to pay debts and cover their fees.
  • Bailiffs can take luxury items, for example a TV, but they can't take essentials such as your clothes.
  • They can't take work tools and equipment which together are worth less than £1,350 and they take can't someone else's belongings, such as your partner's computer – but to stop them, you'll have to prove these items aren't yours.

Before you let a bailiff in to take your things or pay them, ask to see proof of identity, which company they're from, a telephone contact number and a breakdown of what you owe.

You can pay the bailiff on the doorstep – you don't have to let them into your home, but make sure you get a receipt to prove you've paid. If you can't afford to pay in full, you can offer to pay in monthly or weekly instalments. They don't have to accept this, but it will show your intent to pay.

If the bailiff threatens or harasses you, or breaks into your house, you can complain about them. You can complain about private bailiffs by contacting the company they work for or the trade organisation they are part of. If they are a court bailiff or civilian enforcement officer, you can complain using this form.

What does the Money Advice Trust say?

MAT chief executive Joanna Elson said: "Bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention, making sure residents get the free debt advice they need, and agreeing repayment arrangements that are affordable and sustainable.

"We will continue to work constructively with councils to help them reduce their bailiff use – and to impress on central Government the urgent need for the national policy changes that are required to quicken the pace of change."