Council brought in the bailiffs almost 7,000 times in the last year

HASTINGS Borough Council has a particularly bad record for bringing in the bailiffs, according to the Money Advice Trust.

Figures released last week by the charity, obtained as a result of Freedom of Information requests made to local authorities, ranks the borough as seventh in England and Wales for bailiff referrals in the last 12 months as a percentage of total properties.

The council referred 6,928 debts to bailiffs, which equates to 15 per cent of total properties.

The top bailiff referrer was Luton Borough Council, with 18,378 referrals equating to 22 per cent of total properties.

This does not however mean that these percentages of residential properties and business properties have been visited by bailiffs, as they are often instructed to collect a debt more than once at the same property. Local authorities most commonly refer council tax arrears, business rate arrears, and parking fines to bailiffs for collection.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “It is not economically or socially responsible for local authorities to continue to use bailiffs so frequently.

“Our experience through National Debtline shows us first-hand how bailiffs can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them.”

Council spokesman Kevin Boorman said: “We don’t consider we have a poor record of bailiff use. The council taxes we collect pay for a vital range of local services, not just here in Hastings, but for East Sussex County Council, Sussex Police, and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Services.

“We do use bailiffs to collect money where necessary, but only as a last resort.

“We follow Citizens Advice good practice, which means we will collect payments direct from benefits payments, or use ‘attachment of earnings’, in preference to using bailiffs.

“We also consider the level of debt before bailiffs are employed, and we review cases on an individual basis where vulnerable people may be involved.

“Bailiffs only become involved once a case has gone to court, and even then bailiff charges can be avoided if arrangements to pay off the outstanding debt are made within 14 days.

“We would urge people who are having difficulty in meeting their payments to contact us as soon as possible - please don’t wait until the summons is issued.”