Vulnerable people are in danger of being pushed into the hands of unscrupulous bailiffs who act aggressively and pile on excessive fees.
The warning came this week from Citizens Advice, which said that bailiffs are set to profit from a cocktail of inadequate regulation and slashed council tax support. The charity said that as council tax support moves to localised schemes, almost 2.5m of England’s poorest households will have to squeeze up to £322 more out of their stretched budgets.
If they can’t pay, families face mounting debts and are at risk of bailiff action.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Bailiffs will see their profits rise at the expense of hard-pressed households. In the 12 months to March 2013, Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales helped with 60,652 problems with bailiffs, a third of which were for council tax debts. On top of that, the charity dealt with 161,564 problems with council tax arrears.
It is asking councils to protect their residents by helping them deal with their debts early on and only using bailiffs as a last resort. “Bailiffs often overstate their powers, deliberately frighten debtors and charge extortionate fees,” warned Ms Guy. “We want councils to help people get on top of council tax debts so using bailiffs is not necessary.”
The charity also says there should be an independent, statutory licence for bailiff firms to crack down on lawless behaviour.