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Burnley Council call bailiffs in over 7,000 cases
A WAR of words has erupted after a debt charity found Burnley Council had brought in baliffs in more than 7,000 cases.
The Money Advice Trust ‘named and shamed’ 10 local authorities, including Burnley, over the amount of times they deployed collection agencies to recover council tax or non-domestic rates.
Trust bosses claimed the 6,693 residential debts, not including a further 373 business bills, equated to around 16 per cent of all households.
But council chief executive Steve Rumbelow has hit back, insisting some households were being chased for multiple debts - and the actual overall rate was just 5.6 per cent.
Joanna Elson, the MAT’s chief executive, claimed Burnley had a ‘particularly poor record’ for ‘excessive use’ of baliffs.
She added: “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. “ But Mr Rumbelow said that baliffs were only used as a last resort when every other method of recouping people’s debts had been exhausted.
He added: “We’re very angry and disappointed the Money Advice Trust has decided to paint a completely false and misleading picture.
“This is despite the fact we contacted the trust and explained the true situation.
“The truth is the council used bailiffs to recover debts from 2,252 individuals, equivalent to 5.6 per cent of residential properties in the borough, and 222 businesses, or 6.2 per cent of the total last year.
“The fact that individuals or businesses may have several debt ‘actions’ against them, resulting in the higher figure mentioned, has been ignored by the trust.”
The trust has urged the council to sign up to a new protocol, brokered by the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, on how to handle tax arrears.
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