The coalition agreement committed the coalition Government to provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs and unreasonable charges. Further to this, last year, Ministers pledged to review the guidance given to local authorities on the use of bailiffs to collect council tax.
This was in the light of unacceptable practices by some local authorities; poor advice from the old Office of the Deputy Prime Minister guidance, and the failure of the last Administration to deliver on their 2009 pledge to publish new guidance on good collection practice.
My Department has published new guidance to local authorities: “Council Tax: guidance to local councils on good practice in the collection of Council Tax arrears”. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House and is available on my Department’s website at: https://www. gov.uk/government/publications/council-tax. It replaces the previous Office of the Deputy Prime Minister guidance.
Councils will rightly want to ensure they collect council tax as far as possible, as every penny that is unpaid means higher bills for law-abiding citizens. But this does not mean that shady or aggressive practices are acceptable.
The new guidance directly tackles such issues as “phantom visits”, excessive charges and kickbacks from bailiffs to local authorities. Contracts should not involve rewards or penalties which incentivise the use of bailiffs where it would not otherwise be justified.
It also provides clear guidance on:
bailiffs providing the debtor with a contact number should they wish to speak to the billing authority;
local councillors remaining responsible for the action of bailiffs they have contracted;
in-house bailiffs having to explicitly state that they are part of the local authority;
councils publishing their standard scale of fees on their website, to allow public scrutiny and highlight unreasonable practices; and
actively encouraging councils to sign up to the Citizens Advice Bureau good practice protocol.
This statement delivers on the commitment made by Ministers—12 January 2012, Official Report, column 385W —to report back to the House. It also delivers on the commitment made to the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—15 September 2011, Official Report, column 1206W—to review the unacceptable practices in the London borough of Harrow.