VULNERABLE people are being pursued by bailiffs using trickery to con their way into homes, according to an advisory service for people with council tax debts.

The Adver told on Tuesday how a handful of firms are raking in hundreds of thousands of pounds a year from Swindon Council despite controversy over their tactics.

They are believed to have made several million over the past few years.

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.

He said: “Once someone falls into arrears with council tax a number of letters are generated. 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, a Westbury resident who set up the company after himself having trouble with bailiffs, believes phone calls should be made to people who fail to pay or respond to final demand letters.

He said: “Local authorities simply have too many people to deal with and my view is that it’s quicker and simpler for them to pass massive caseloads over the bailiffs. “They don’t fully understand the mentality of many people with council tax debts. Many will receive letters and leave them unopened, with the bailiff being the first person they deal with. There needs to be an in-between step, either through the council or a third party, to find out what the reasons are for not paying.

“Bailiffs should not be sent to the homes of people who are vulnerable, and once they are there, the damage is already done.”

Complaints the company has received includes bailiffs saying they will return with a locksmith if they are not given access to a home and firms charging extortionate fees.

Council Tax Advisors gives advice for free in the first instance, which the company says solves the problem in 60 per cent of cases.

The remainder of the time the service charges a small fee, which is agreed with the debtor, and works with the bailiffs to negotiate an agreement.

Mr Richards said his company, which is based in Beckington, had a 100 per cent success rate and only charged because funding was not available elsewhere.

Debt collectors recovered £170,000 in car parking fines alone between 2011 and 2012, of which they retained £100,000. But the companies have also recouped more than £1m every year since 2009, and retained an undisclosed share of the proceeds.

Council leader Rod Bluh defended the use of bailiffs by saying the figures showed they had clawed back a large sum of taxpayers’ cash and he had not been aware of any issues around unscrupulous behaviour by companies instructed by the council.

He also said the council was fulfilling its responsibility by chasing debts.