Simon Read: The heavy-handed knock on the door that strikes fear

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The Independent Online

When a bailiff appears at your door, it's a frightening experience. Even if it's mistaken identity – as happened with me once – the threatening presence will make you nervous.

So I was shocked to hear that local councils have called in bailiffs 1.8 million times in the last year.

The figure was uncovered by debt charity the Money Advice Trust after it submitted Freedom of Information requests to all 374 local authorities in England and Wales.

"Bailiffs can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them," pointed out Joanne Elson of the charity. She said the high use of bailiffs was "excessive".

Earlier this week Citizens Advice said that working parents are being hounded by debt collectors and more than a fifth of requests for help they receive are for dealing with bailiffs chasing payments.

"All too often debts, like unpaid council tax, are passed to bailiffs too quickly," said Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive, adding that creditors, such as councils, should be identifying debt problems earlier and offering support. "They should never side-step their responsibilities by handing it over to bailiffs."

I agree. Being in debt is miserable enough. Being hounded for cash by often unscrupulous bailiffs can only compound the misery.

Many, as Citizen Advice points out, "overstate their powers, act aggressively and bump up debts by levying excessive and illegal fees and charges".

Councils – which even pass on the collection of parking fines to bailiffs – must try and help their local residents, not worsen their worries. And the Government should speed up the process of introducing new laws to tackle aggressive bailiffs.

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