CHARITY has slammed Swindon Council for using bailiffs to chase up money from some of Swindon’s poorest families.
Citizens Advice Bureau says it has received 10 complaints in the last week from families who say they have been threatened by bailiffs over their council tax arrears.
One of the complaints describes how a bailiff said he would wait outside a mum’s home until her son came home from school at which point he would force his way into the house and collect items for sale.
Paula Austin, advice service manager for CAB, said the council’s use of bailiffs during a recession was placing parents and children under extreme pressure. “We have seen a big increase in people being pursued by bailiffs,” she said. “These people simply don’t have enough money to pay and are dealing with other worries in their lives already.
“The bailiffs often have no scruples and charge families £80 every time they turn up – and then when people do pay – they subtract the money from their bailiff charges and not their council tax debt.
“Sometimes they take all a family’s belongings and sell them at auction only to find out that it pays for just a fraction of their debt.
“We also have reports of elderly residents being harassed. It is scary for people, especially if bailiffs are coming to the door and trying to take things from them, it causes undue stress.”
She added the council has a number of options to claw back the arrears, including attaching debt to people’s homes or taking it from their benefits or salaries – should they have jobs.
A council spokesman said: “The council fully understands that people can’t always pay their council tax because of difficult personal economic circumstances, which is why we encourage people to contact us before we take any recovery proceedings. Before debts are passed to bailiffs, residents will receive reminders, summons and further notices. These notices all invite people who might be struggling to talk to us.
“We can advise people on the benefits which they may be entitled to. We have to get a court order before we instruct bailiffs, and we only use reputable companies to help us recover our debts.
“While there are many people genuinely struggling to pay, there are others who simply refuse to, and we owe it to those residents who pay their tax to make sure those people who can pay, do so.”
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