Bailiffs’ 150,000 call outs

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NEARLY 150,000 debt referrals were made by Wigan Council to bailiffs last year as it chased debts.

According to figures released by the Money Advice Trust, a further 10,000 resorts to strong arm tactics were also made for businesses properties - the tenth highest of all metropolitan boroughs.

The statistics were released just months after the local authority announced it was getting tougher on outstanding debts such as unpaid rent and council tax.

Coun Terry Halliwell, Wigan Council cabinet member for service transformation, said: “It is very important that people who owe us money don’t ignore our reminders.

“The changes mean that if people have outstanding debts, they will not have an unwelcome visit from an enforcement agent if they engage with them and make arrangements to pay the debt off straight away.

“We do understand that there may be some residents who are feeling pressure financially. This is why we have launched the money management scheme, to help those who are struggling financially.”

The changes mean that those in debt will have to pay a £75 fee if their case is passed on to a bailiff.

This happens when the person has failed to respond to written, electronic and verbal reminders from the council.

If they are still unable to collect the debt after this, the enforcement agent can visit them in person, and they will have to pay another fee of £235.

There will also be an additional cost of £110 if the enforcement agent is forced to take a number of their possessions if the arrears remain unpaid.

People who still haven’t paid their debt after these stages could face being made bankrupt, summoned to court or even face imprisonment.

Overall, the Money Advice Trust revealed that during the whole of 2013, councils across England and Wales carried out the equivalent of 5,013 bailiff referrals per day.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said that it isn’t economically or socially responsible for local authorities to continue to use bailiffs so frequently.

She added: “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.”

She believes councils should be more inclined to open a dialogue with those in arrears on their payments, rather than using debt collection agencies that could actually make the problem more difficult to resolve.