Bailiffs chasing working parents for debts

Published on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 10:31
Written by Vicki Mitchem

More than 1 in 5 people who have a bailiff problem are working parents, reveal new figures from Citizens Advice.

The national charity also finds that parents are more likely to have bailiffs knocking at the door chasing debts than any other household.  New figures show that half of people who get help about bailiffs are families with dependent children.

There is little divide between in work and unemployed families as 46% have jobs compared to 54% who are unemployed.

The study also uncovered a North-South divide when it comes to the scale of bailiff problems.

  • The North East accounted for a sixth of all bailiff problems handled by Citizens Advice Bureaux across England and Wales.
  • One in 25 problems handled by CABs in the North East are to do with bailiffs compared to just 1 in 100 in the South West.
  • More than half the people in the East Midlands who have a bailiff problem are a family.

Bureaux across the country see people with a range of debts that are being chased by bailiffs, from council tax arrears and unpaid parking fines to loans and credit cards.

The new findings are from an in depth analysis of 13,444 people who came to Citizens Advice between January and March 2013 with a bailiff problem¹.

Citizens Advice helped 38,262 people with over 60,000 bailiff problems between April 2012 and March 2013, a third of which were for council tax debts.

The findings reignite Citizens Advice's concerns that a shift from council tax benefits to localised support schemes could see more families struggling to pay their bill, meaning bailiffs come knocking.

It's not just the debt that is the problem.  Evidence from CABs has found private bailiffs frequently overstate their powers, act aggressively and bump up debts by levying excessive and illegal fees and charges.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

"The prospect of a bailiff knocking at the door of a family home is terrifying for anyone, particularly parents with kids at home.  Mums and Dads don't want their children to know about their money worries, but when a person is standing on their doorstep demanding money, it is unavoidable and frightening for all of the family.

"The fact that working parents are being hounded by bailiffs for debts is a worrying reflection on today's living standards.  Hard-working households are racking up debts just to get by.

"We're concerned that all too often debts, like unpaid council tax, are passed to bailiffs too quickly without recognizing that the person may be struggling and need help like repayment plans. Creditors need to be identifying debt problems earlier and offering support, and never side-stepping responsibilities by handing it over to bailiffs."

Citizens Advice is calling on councils to sign up to its good practice protocol on council tax debts. The protocol includes commitments such as promoting help that's available to those who are struggling and highlighting different payment date options for council tax payers so they can budget more effectively.

Earlier this year the Government announced plans to clamp down on rogue bailiffs from April 2014 which includes banning bailiffs from entering homes at night or when only children are present.  Citizens Advice is keen to see the changes implemented but is concerned they do not get to grips with the fundamental flaw of a lack of proper controls and consequences for bailiff firms.

Real-life examples of families chased by bailiffs

A bailiff threatened to bring the police to the home of a single parent, and her two children, to take away her goods despite agreeing a repayment plan for her £1,200 debt.  The mother had struggled to manage the family finances ever since her partner, who was the main breadwinner, left some years ago, resulting in long-standing council tax debts.

One parent told Citizens Advice that bailiffs left them feeling frightened, intimidated and a prisoner in their own home.

  • Almost 2.5 million of England's poorest households will have to squeeze up to £322 more out of already stretched budgets to accommodate council tax reforms.
  • There has been a 10% cut in the support to help with council tax bills.
  • 87% more people sought online advice about council tax this April compared to the same month in 2012.
  • In April, the number of people seeking online advice on how to deal with bailiffs almost trebled, rising to over 20,000 from just under 7,000 in April last year.

Source: CAB

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