Back in 2010, 13,353 people who contacted us were in arrears to their council; by 2014 this number had risen to 63,016 – a staggering 372% increase.
The consequences of falling into Council tax arrears can be serious. Although councils can’t add charges and interest to Council tax arrears, they have a lot of power to make people pay.
What we found out
We’ve found councils will often take aggressive action to recover Council tax debts, and not just as a last resort. 62% of people we spoke to had been threatened with court action, while 51% had been threatened with bailiffs (or sheriffs as they’re known in Scotland). Unbelievably, only 13% were encouraged to get debt advice.
The impact this has on individuals and families is immense, adding to stress and anxiety, negatively impacting on health, and putting strain on family life. With people facing charges of £310 for a bailiff/sheriff issuing a letter and visiting their property, what started off as relatively small debts can soon spiral out of control.
That’s why we’re saying enough is enough.
We want action
We believe this is not an effective way to recover debt and the government needs to take action.
- Councils should have to show evidence that they tried to put an affordable payment plan in place
- The government should ensure consistent incentives and messages to councils to reinforce the importance of affordable payment solutions
- There should be new individual protection against councils enforcing unaffordable debts for people who have sought help
The statistics from our report paint a picture of what’s happening across the UK, but we’d like to hear your experiences. Have you ever fallen into arrears with Council tax? Did your council offer to put in place an affordable payment plan or suggest you get debt advice? Were you threatened with court action? Did it impact on your family life, work or health? Let us know in the comments.
All figures based on a survey of 1,087 StepChange Debt Charity clients (February 2015)