Bailiffs visit thousands in Blackburn and Darwen over unpaid council tax (From Lancashire Telegraph)
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Bailiffs visit thousands in Blackburn and Darwen over unpaid council tax
ALMOST 5,000 families in Blackburn with Darwen faced a visit from bailiffs over unpaid council tax last year - nearly 2,000 more than the year before.
Debt collectors were tasked with recovering more than £2.64m of unpaid bills in 2012/13, Freedom of Information Act figures show.
In total, bailiffs dealt with 4,812 individual cases, up from 3,077 in 2010/11.
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Major welfare reform, including the bedroom tax and the introduction of council tax support, accounts for much of the rise.
Cavendish Street resident, Christine Hall, 54, said she was left struggling with her council tax after becoming unable to work.
She said: “I missed one payment and I got a removal notice through my door from bailiffs saying they will take my belongings.
“It’s not fair to do this when people are struggling.”
And 29-year-old warehouse worker Robert Farren, who moved into Raikes Bridge, Darwen, after leaving home, said he was being hounded by bailiffs despite trying to pay his debt.
He said: “I was struggling to pay and I called up to try and arrange something. They took me to court and now they’ve called in the bailiffs.
“I got behind by three months and I paid them two months’ worth, but they said it wasn’t enough.
“I’ve offered to pay the bailiffs what I was paying every month for my council tax but they said they wanted more.
“They have not been round yet but they’ve been threatening me and putting letters through my door.
“I tried to sort it out with the council, but this was definitely not the last resort. They did not give me enough time to try and sort it out.”
The Citizens’ Advice Bureau said it had noticed an increase in the number of people asking for help after struggling to pay council tax bills, and said bailiffs were being used in three out of five cases.
Chief executive of the CAB, Gillian Guy, said: “Some bailiffs are utterly relentless and use aggressive and threatening behaviour to intimidate people in debt.
“Despite people barely having a penny to their name, bailiffs keep on hounding them for money they just don’t have, even when they’ve arranged a repayment plan with the council.”
The council was unable to say how much money it recovered.
Executive member for resources, Andy Kay, said: “The changes in council tax benefit by central government which targeted the lowest income families has resulted in more arrears, more recovery notices being issued, and more cases being issued to the bailiffs.”
Labour MP for Blackburn Jack Straw said he would raise the issue with secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith.
He said: “This seems to be the result not of stricter enforcement, but of changing benefits levels for those on the lowest incomes.
“The government was warned about the consequences of increasing council tax payments by cutting council tax benefits.”
In Hyndburn last year, just a fraction of outstanding money was collected.
The council used three debt collection companies to chase 7,296 cases.
One refused to say how much money it had reclaimed because the information could be ‘prejudicial to its commercial interest’, or whether the money owed was council tax, business rates, or otherwise.
The other two companies said they recovered just 25 per cent of the £2m they were tasked with reclaiming.
Blackburn, Ribble Valley, Hyndburn, Chorley, Rossendale, and Pendle councils, and the fire service, all froze their council tax rates as they acknowledged the hardship an increase would impose on hard-pressed residents and families.
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