Councils have been accused of turning to bailiffs and the courts rather than helping people in rent arrears.
StepChange Debt Charity research suggests councils are more likely to engage in aggressive enforcement action rather than offer affordable payment options to struggling tenants.
“It is shocking that many councils are less likely to be helpful to people in debt than banks are, and are more likely to take people to court,” said Mike O’Connor, chief executive of StepChange.
“The growth in people struggling with their council tax bills is only outstripped by growth in problems caused by payday loans.”
The number of people contacting the charity with council tax arrears has increased 372 per cent in the last five years and over the same period the average amount owed has risen £157, he said.
A survey of the charity’s clients found that even when people engaged with their council they faced tough action. After speaking to the council, 62 per cent had still been threatened with court action, 51 per cent had been threatened with bailiffs.
Meanwhile only 25 per cent were offered an affordable payment option and a measly 13 per cent were encouraged to get debt advice.
The charity is calling on the government to change to the Council Tax Administration and Enforcement Act 1992 to place guidance on a stronger legal footing, including ensuring that councils should evidence that they have tried to pursue an affordable repayment plan
Ensure consistent incentives and messages to councils that reinforce the need for and importance of affordable payment solutions.
It has also demanded a new individual protection against enforcement of unaffordable repayments for people seeking help with their debts.
“Councils need to pursue debts but they must have a responsible and proportionate approach to dealing with people in arrears and not default to aggressive enforcement that often only serves to deepen debt problems,” said Mr O’Connor. “There are examples of good practice such as Leeds City Council but all too often public authorities are neither behaving as responsibly as they should or using the best strategy to recover debt.”Reuse content