Citizens Advice Further fixes to coronavirus safety net needed as millions see hit to their incomes by Koto Amatsukami AdobeStock_329985936

Ban on face-to-face bailiff collection will come to an end on 23 August

The UK’s three largest debt charities – Citizens Advice, Money Advice Trust and Stepchange – have written to the Local Government Minister to call for urgent action on council tax. The charities are urging the government to implement simple measures that could protect millions of people from the prospect of spiralling council tax debt.

Following legislation which came into effect on Wednesday 24 June, the ban on face-to-face bailiff collection will now come to an end on 23 August 2020. This is the same day as protections from eviction end for people in the private rented sector and comes at a time when redundancies are expected to rise.

Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“The government now has a two-month window of opportunity to make changes to council tax collection that will help millions of people facing the prospect of spiralling debt. Over the last few years, Citizens Advice has helped hundreds of thousands of people with council tax arrears.

“Using bailiffs to collect debts is a blunt tool that’s extraordinarily damaging to those on the receiving end, and economically ineffective for councils. Former government ministers, backbenchers, charities, campaigners and councils themselves are lining up to call for change on this issue.

“People struggling with their council tax bills could now face a nervous summer waiting for the knock at the door. The government must take the opportunity to act to help people avoid this.”

Over £500m of unpaid council tax during the coronavirus outbreak

The charities are warning of potentially huge problems for those behind on council tax. They said that outdated government regulations drive councils to using court-based enforcement to recover council tax arrears.

In 2018-19, the use of bailiffs added £200 million of fees to people’s debts, but councils recovered less than 30p out of every pound of debt referred. Councils are also the largest users of bailiffs – 1.4 million council tax debts were passed to bailiffs by councils in England and Wales in 2018/19.

According to figures from the Local Government Association, over £500m of council tax has gone unpaid during the coronavirus outbreak. The charities claim that this could mean over 1.3million households are council tax arrears.

While many councils have been supporting residents during the pandemic, their precarious financial position – and the government’s restrictive rules – may leave them little choice about calling in the bailiffs in August.

Research from Citizens Advice has shown that council tax arrears have hit some groups particularly hard. People who are behind on their council tax because of COVID-19 are twice as likely to have been shielding or at increased risk of the virus. They are also four times more likely to be caring for older family members.

The charities are calling for simple changes to the council tax regulations to give councils more flexibility to recover debts outside the court process.

They added that this decision could be enacted by ministers without taking up precious parliamentary time and has been supported by local councils. Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said:

“There is an urgent need for changes to the way that council tax is collected before bailiff visits are allowed to resume. The government must act to change the rules to ensure local authorities collect council tax debts in a fair and compassionate way, giving people the time they need to repay without unnecessarily resorting to bailiffs.

“Sadly, millions of people have already fallen behind with their bills – these changes are needed now to prevent a bad financial situation being made worse by heavy-handed debt collection practices.”

If anyone is experiencing difficulties in paying their council tax, they should contact their council straight away.

Marston Vale residents encountering difficulties in paying council tax on Central Bedfordshire Council or Bedford Borough Council websites.