The word ‘bailiff’ is enough to strike fear into the hearts of many in this country who are struggling to pay their council tax. We’ve all read reports of intimidating late night written demands for payment and unscheduled house visits, which add to the misery of those hit hardest by the rise in living costs.
Perhaps this goes some way to explain why a council has decided to re-title those they use to collect unpaid council tax from bailiffs to enforcement officers.
Fenland District Council informed Cabinet last month that their new debt policy is an updated version of one that was first introduced back in 2008. It claims to clarify how those that owe them money can seek early advice and to inform residents when enforcement officers can act to claim unpaid debts.
It has stipulated a number of stages to outline when certain actions will come into force, the first being the compliance stage. This will result in those behind on their council tax payments eventually being passed to enforcement officers, but the council have stressed that at this point the emphasis is on agreeing a payment arrangement and that several attempts will be made to contact the customer both by telephone and in writing. It does not include visiting a property to seize goods in the way that bailiffs are notoriously known for doing.
Progression to the enforcement stage will only commence if payment, or a payment plan is not agreed and the value of the fees owed escalate. If such a situation arises, a further £235 plus 7.5 per cent of the value of the debt that exceeds £1,500 applies.
Geoff Kent, Head of Customer Services at Fenland District Council, says it is only at this stage that people can expect a visit from an enforcement officer and in the event of any outstanding debt still not being recovered, “goods to the value of the debt will be identified with a view to sale.”
Should payment still not be received the sale or disposal stage will follow, which also includes a £110 fee, plus 7.5% of the debt that exceeds £1,500, and necessary removal charges.
The threat of court proceedings looms large as a last resort for people who still refuse to pay, which could lead to the council seeking a prison sentence of up to 90 days.
By removing the word ‘bailiff’ from their debt policy, the council appears to be seeking to remove the stigma associated with the term. However, the reality is that the enforcement officers replacing them can exert the same pressure and deploy the same tactics in order to recover council tax payments.
If you are concerned about your ability to keep up with your council tax payments or are in dispute with your council, help is at hand. Council Tax Advisers (CTA) offers free, independent advice so contact them today for more information.