MORE than 2,500 struggling Burnley families faced bailiffs on their doorstep last year – up 40 per cent from the year before.

Debt collectors chased 2,529 residents and families after they struggled to pay their council tax in the town between December 2012 and November last year.

The figures were revealed as the authority announced a council tax hike of 1.99 per cent – on top of a county council increase of the same amount – which has been branded as outrageous by Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle.

Major welfare reform, including the bedroom tax and the introduction of council tax support, is thought to be behind much of the rise.

The Citizens’ Advice Bureau said it had noticed an increase in the number of people asking for help after struggling to cope with the rising cost of living, and said bailiffs were threatening to force their way into people’s homes in three out of five cases.

Although Conservatives in Burnley made a late bid to freeze council tax in the town, Labour and the vast majority of Liberal Democrat councillors approved the rise.

Liberal Democrat Mr Birtwistle said: “The council has millions in reserve they said they are keeping for a rainy day – but it’s raining now. They have £5m in Burnley and I can’t understand why they have increased the council tax.

“Obviously there is a reason why people are not paying. The town is recovering but it needs help.”

And a spokesman for Burnley Council said: “The introduction of council tax support meant a lot of people faced paying a contribution towards their council tax they didn’t pay before.

“We also introduced changes to the council tax discounts on empty properties which meant that people faced paying more.

“If the council is collecting more council tax, it inevitably means more people will default.”

Debt collectors in Blackburn with Darwen were tasked with recovering more than £2.64m of unpaid council tax in 2012/13, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show. In total, bailiffs dealt with 4,812 individual cases in the towns, up from 3,077 in 2010/11.

The council was unable to say how much money it recovered, but said the surge in non-payers was caused by government cuts targeting ‘the lowest income families’.

Labour MP for Blackburn Jack Straw said he would raise the issue with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith.

Chief executive of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, 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, bailiffs keep on hounding them.”