Caven blog

Unpaid bills might be a more costly affair

In today’s straining financial climate many are finding it difficult to pay their bills on time. However, most people don’t expect a visit from the bailiffs over an unpaid parking fine.

Councils are increasingly turning to bailiffs for help to retrieve overdue money, and these visits are then added to the person’s bill.

The Director of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, David Hamilton, said “The coalition Government must act now to end the culture of bully-boy debt collection which has taken hold in town halls across the country.

“Sending in bailiffs to recover debts should always be the absolute last resort.

“The fact local councils have passed more than six million cases to bailiffs for matters as trivial as the late payment of council taxes and parking fines is truly shocking.

“In many cases, bailiffs are a law unto themselves, barging their way into people’s homes, intimidating vulnerable members of the public and imposing rip-off charges.”

However, the Vice-Chairman of the Local Government Association, David Sparks, said that all councils had a responsibility towards those who paid their taxes. “There is nothing trivial about collecting money which funds the vital frontline services residents need and want.”

Many are struggling in today’s harsh climate, a reality which Sparks said councils were sensitive to.

“Calling in the bailiffs is very much a last resort… People struggling to pay bills are given as much leeway as possible and, as a matter of course, councils contact people a number of times before starting legal proceedings.”

Despite acknowledging such concerns, an ITV programme to be aired is said to show how a bailiff at a debt collection firm, which works for more than 200 councils, repeatedly violate voluntarily set guidelines.

Julie Green-Jones, the Chief-Executive of the company, said “I’ve been working with the Ministry of Justice and industry partners for a long time now, and I am calling for the Government to take legislation forward so companies like ours can help rid the industry of operators that don’t subscribe to the values of professionalism and integrity.”

The use of bailiffs might, inevitably, put an extra financial strain on individuals who are already struggling to pay their bills. Perhaps stricter guidelines on the operation of bailiffs used by councils would help to partly avoid a costly and distressing situation. It is also important that individuals understand their rights when it comes to dealing with bailiffs.

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