TWO bailiff companies used by Swindon Council have made tens of millions of pounds as profits soar in Britain’s debt-collection industry.
Ross and Roberts made £6.5m nationally last year, a rise of 47 per cent on 2011. Marston Group made £25.8m, compared with £26m two years ago.
Across the industry companies made more than £106m, a combined rise of 14.7 per cent.
Swindon Council’s reliance on bailiffs has been revealed in figures showing the firms are raking in hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.
Debt collectors recovered £170,000 in car parking fees 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.
Swindon Council said it does not hold information showing how much money the companies kept from this amount in fees.
But if the percentage claimed from council tax is similar to that from parking, the share taken by the firms would amount to several million pounds in the past four years.
Bailiffs also recovered £244,000 in business rates between 2011 and 2012, with the local authority again saying it could not reveal the share retained by the firms.
The council has been criticised by Swindon’s Citizens Advice Bureau in the past over its use of bailiffs after families told the service they felt threatened.
Dozens of complaints have been made against the companies, with 29 lodged last year over council tax and business rates alone. Five have been made since April.
The firms currently instructed include Chandlers, Equita, Marstons, Ross and Roberts and Phoenix.
They chased 5,200 council tax debts, 271 business rates debts and followed up 1,988 warrants for the car parking department between 2011 and 2012.
Council Tax Advisors managing director Chris Richards wants a middle step of mediation to be introduced before bills are passed on to debt collection agencies.
“Once someone falls into arrears with council tax a number of letters are generated,” he said.
“Often the first people know of it is when a bailiff turns up on their doorstep.
“The resident then rings the council to tell them what’s happening and 99 per cent of the time they are told there is nothing that can be done.
“That is rubbish as there are other angles such as attachment to earnings and attachment to benefits. It is socially irresponsible to send out bailiffs as a blanket measure.”
Mr Richards believes phone calls should be made to people who fail to pay or respond to final demand letters.
Council leader Rod Bluh has previously defended the use of bailiff companies by the council.
He said: “I cannot comment on how bailiffs carry out their duty as you have good bailiffs and bad bailiffs.
“As a general principle, clearly the council has a duty to collect the debts and in some cases unfortunately it results in the use of bailiffs.
“As the figures show, this has had a beneficial outcome as they have managed to recover substantial debts, in particular with connection to council tax.
“Every pound that someone should pay in council tax represents a pound that has been paid by someone else.”