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New proposals may rein in the bailiffs
8:20am Thursday 1st November 2012 in News
BAILIFFS collecting debts from residents on behalf of Swindon Council could be reined in under a proposal put forward by opposition political groups.
The Adver reported in September that a handful of debt collection companies were making a fortune despite their tactics having been criticised for unfairly penalising poor and vulnerable people.
Debt collectors recovered £170,000 in car parking fees alone between 2011 and 2012, of which they retained £100,000. But the companies have also recouped more than £1m in council tax every year since 2009, and retained an undisclosed share of the proceeds.
Now the council’s Labour group, supported by the Lib Dems, are tabling a motion at the next full council on November 8, asking the council to express concern at the allegations and asking officers to investigate how to ensure the council’s bailiffs comply fully with the law and its intent.
Coun Des Moffatt, the Labour group’s finance lead, said: “Too many bailiffs acting on behalf of the council are using underhand tactics and are not fully complying with the letter or the intention of the law. This is stopping payback agreements being reached between the council and people in arrears.
“What this motion is hoping to achieve is to find ways that the council can ensure that the bailiffs who are acting on its behalf fully comply with the law and its intent.”
Council Tax Advisors, an advisory service for people with council tax debts, says it received five complaints about Swindon Council and one of its bailiffs in just one week in October. It is hoping to meet senior officers this month to discuss the problem.
Managing director Chris Richards, who wants a middle step of mediation to be introduced before bills are passed on to debt collection agencies, says his staff had encountered problems when dealing with the authority.
He said: “When we have been trying to investigate on behalf of people, they give us a flat response that it’s with the bailiffs, it has to stay with the bailiffs regardless of any vulnerability issues. Their stance has changed slightly but they’re still using this blanket measure which is completely unnecessary and can be avoided.
“If a bailiff gets involved the collection fees incurred on the debt doesn’t do the council any favours or the debtor any favours.”
Council leader Rod Bluh has defended the use of bailiffs, saying the figures showed they had clawed back a large sum of taxpayers’ cash and he had not been aware of any unscrupulous behaviour by companies instructed by the council.
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