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Local Authorities in England and Wales refer 1.8 million debts to bailiffs in 12 months

*Please note this news story is from 2013.  For our most recent research on local authority bailiff use, published in November 2017, see www.stoptheknock.org​*

Local authorities across England and Wales have referred debts to bailiffs on 1.8 million occasions in the last 12 months (the 2012 calendar year).  Today we have released figures obtained by issuing Freedom of Information requests to all 374 local authorities in England and Wales that make clear the massive extent of bailiff use by local authorities. We are calling on local authorities to be more responsible in managing their debt collection.

Local authorities most commonly refer council tax arrears, business rate arrears, and parking fines to bailiffs for collection.

The full data set is available here 

There is extreme variation across the 374 different local authorities in England and Wales as to how frequently bailiffs are called in. Birmingham City Council (the largest local authority in the UK) referred debts to bailiffs on 82,329 occasions in the last 12 months – equivalent to 17 per cent of total properties in Birmingham. The London Borough of Newham council referred 55,652 cases to bailiffs – equivalent to nearly half of the total properties under its authority.  

Excessive bailiff use isn’t restricted to larger authorities, with Merthyr Tydfil Council referring 6,094 debts to bailiffs, equivalent to 22 per cent of the total properties under its authority. 

Council tax arrears are the third most common debt type dealt with by National Debtline. In the first half of this year the service took over 20,000 calls for help with council tax, a record in its 23 year history and an increase of 61 per cent on five years ago, and 13 per cent over last year.  

Joanna Elson OBE, Chief Executive of the Money Advice Trust, said:

“These figures make clear that something has to change. 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. 

“Local authorities seem to be assuming that anyone not paying debts is a ‘won’t pay’, rather than a ‘can’t pay’. In today’s economy, with real incomes having fallen consistently for many years, more and more people are falling into the ‘can’t pay’ bracket – sending the bailiffs in to collect these debts can be very destructive, both financially and psychologically.   

“This is a problem with a clear solution. The Local Government Association has supported a protocol, established by Citizens Advice, which makes clear how authorities should handle collection of council tax arrears. Authorities which have signed up to the protocol have maintained healthy collection rates. We firmly encourage all local authorities to consider their debt collection practices, especially following the abolition of national Council Tax Benefit and the introduction of localised Council Tax Support.”   

The top bailiff referrers in England and Wales

Local authority

Bailiff referrals in the last 12 months

Bailiff referrals as a percentage of total properties

Birmingham City Council

82,329

17 per cent

City of Westminster

56,222

36 per cent

London Borough of Newham

55,652

50 per cent

London Borough of Croydon

50,209

32 per cent

Liverpool City Council

47,054

20 per cent

London Borough of Lambeth

43,011

30 per cent

Manchester City Council

42,012

17 per cent

Leeds City Council

40,780

11 per cent

London Borough of Redbridge

35,502

33 per cent

London Borough of Southwark

33,130

24 per cent

 

The top bailiff referrers in England and Wales – by proportion of total properties

Local authority

Bailiff referrals in the last 12 months

Bailiff referrals as a percentage of total properties

London Borough of Newham

55,652

50 per cent

City of Westminster

56,222

36 per cent

London Borough of Redbridge

35,502

33 per cent

London Borough of Croydon

50,209

32 per cent

London Borough of Waltham Forest

32,215

31 per cent

London Borough of Lambeth

43,011

30 per cent

London Borough of Hounslow

26,897

26 per cent

London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham

23,076

25 per cent

London Borough of Southwark

33,130

24 per cent

Luton Borough Council

18,378

22 per cent

 

The top bailiff referrers in England and Wales excluding London – by proportion of total properties

Local authority

Bailiff referrals in the last 12 months

Bailiff referrals as a percentage of total properties

Luton Borough Council

18,378

22 per cent

Merthyr Tydfil Council

6,094

22 per cent

Liverpool City Council

47,054

20 per cent

Birmingham City Council

82,329

17 per cent

Manchester City Council

42,012

17 per cent

Burnley Borough council

7,066

16 per cent

Hastings Borough Council

6,928

15 per cent

Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council

4,880

14 per cent

Gravesham Borough Council

6,072

14 per cent

Hyndburn Borough Council

4,865

13 per cent

 

 

The full data set is available here and an excel spreadsheet is available on request at esther.jones@moneyadvicetrust.org

 

1.8 million is a big number…

  • 5,013 bailiff referrals every day

  • 334 bailiff referrals every hour*

  • 6 bailiff referrals every minute*

  • 1 bailiff referral every ten seconds*

  • Nearly 4 times the number of bailiff referrals in 2012 than people immigrating to the UK

  • 55 bailiff referrals for every branch of McDonalds around the world

  • 1,801 bailiff referrals for every branch of Sainsburys in the UK

  • 2.5 bailiff referrals for every new baby born in 2012

  • 2 bailiff referrals for every person living in either Cyprus or Fiji

  • 5.5 bailiff referrals for every person living in Iceland

  • 1 bailiff referral for every person living in Northern Ireland

  • 2,287 bailiff referrals for each monk in the Vatican city

  • 2,815 bailiff referrals for every Member of Parliament

  • More bailiff referrals than UK eBook downloads of Fifty Shades of Grey

*Based on bailiff operating hours of 6am – 9pm

Click here to read our guide on dealing with council tax and bailiffs.

Some key policy points from the Good Practice Protocol for council tax collection: 

  • Billing authorities should prioritise direct deduction from benefits or attachment of earnings in preference to using bailiffs. This avoids extra debts being incurred by people who may already have substantial liabilities.
  • Consider the level of debt (inclusive of liability order fees) before bailiff action is taken.
  • key part of the recovery is treating each case on its merits. Arrangements need to be affordable and sustainable while ensuring that the debt is paid off within a reasonable period.

 

 
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