Thousands in West Norfolk find bailiffs on doorstep

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Council chiefs employed bailiffs to recover debts from more than 4,500 people in West Norfolk during the last financial year, new figures have revealed.

The statistic has been published by a financial advice charity which is calling on local authorities to reduce their reliance on debt enforcement agents.

The authority has said it is looking into the figures, which were released by the Money Advice Trust, which runs a national debt support line, through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The trust says that, in West Norfolk, a total of 4,647 debt cases were referred to bailiffs during the 2014-15 financial year.

The total is the second highest in Norfolk, behind that for Yarmouth borough council and places the authority 82nd out of 326 councils in England and Wales.

The charity says it does not know whether the total is increasing or not, as the council did not respond to a similar FOI request two years ago.

But they have said that around three quarters of the total, 3,289, relate to the non-payment of council tax.

The trust also said around £2.7 million of council tax to the borough council was still outstanding at the end of the last financial year.

Money Advice Trust chief executive Joanna Elson said she understood local authorities had a duty to collect money that is owed to them.

But she added: “The council’s use of bailiffs remains too high.

“On the front line of debt advice we know that sending the bailiffs in can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them – and it can also have a severe impact on the wellbeing of people who are often already in a vulnerable situation.

“Bailiff action is not only harmful to those in arrears – it is also a poor deal for the council taxpayer.

“Our research shows that the councils who use bailiffs the most are actually less effective at collecting council tax arrears.

“That’s why we are urging councillors to consider ways they can improve the council’s debt collection practices, and ensure that bailiffs are only used as an absolute last resort.”

The figure given for cases involving bailiffs in West Norfolk is almost twice that of the nearest authority, the North Norfolk district council, where 2,510 cases were recorded in the 2014-15 financial year.

However, the trust said its figure had increased by 
155 per cent in the last two years.

In Breckland, 2,278 cases were recorded, up seven per cent, but the total in South Holland was down 41 per cent to 1,916.