CONCERNS over council tax debts being passed to bailiffs too early will be debated next week.

Hyndburn Council’s communities and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee will examine the local authority’s council tax and collection and recovery scheme after the issue was raised.

Members will scrutinise the impact on people with low incomes when cases are passed to bailiffs at an early stage

Currently, an unpaid bill on the most direct path down the recovery route will be passed to bailiffs until approximately 71 days, or ten weeks, from the instalment being due.

By this point, the resident has been sent at least five letters and may have also received emails, text messages or direct calls from our officers.

Council customer contact manager, Rachael Walker, said: “In response to the request for this report, we cannot uphold a complaint that Council Tax arrears are being sent to Enforcement Agents early in the collection process – a ten week period between an instalment being due and the compliance stage of enforcement is within legislative guidelines and provides residents with ample time to contact the Council to make an arrangement.

“Additionally, the evidence in this report demonstrates that accounts are not being referred to enforcement agents instead of alternative methods of recovery such as deductions from benefits.

“Despite a deduction from benefits typically taking longer to clear arrears than other methods, this is still the council’s initial route for residents on benefits who are in arrears.”

Hyndburn Council collects council tax on behalf of Lancashire County Council, Lancashire Police and Lancashire Fire and Rescue, in addition to Hyndburn’s own precept and a minor precept for Altham Parish Council.

In 2018/19, the net collectible debit was £38.8million, of which they collected £36.8million, an in-year collection rate of 94.8 per cent.

Ms Walker added: "At all stages of the collection process, residents are encouraged to contact us if they are struggling to pay or have missed an instalment.

"At all stages, our officers are trained to recognise and to provide flexibility for vulnerable customers and to ensure that benefits and any relevant discounts and exemptions are claimed.

"If a resident does make contact with the council, our aim will be to help them to bring the account up to date and establish a payment method such as direct debit to prevent further arrears.

"Any resident already at the summons stage will be offered a payment arrangement with the council and an opportunity to pay the bill in-year and prevent any further action.

"Anyone unable to afford an in-year payment arrangement can opt to have their income and expenditure assessed in order to agree to a longer arrangement if appropriate.

"This is more common for arrears as current year council tax payments will not be spread over to the next financial year unless there are exceptional circumstances.

"Any account for which we hold information about employment or benefits will not be passed to an enforcement agent but will be sent either for an attachment of earnings order or a deduction from benefits order – both of which can be stacked over multiple