Islington Council calls in the bailiffs 14,000 times in 12 months

Islington Town Hall

Islington Town Hall - Credit: Archant

The town hall called in bailiffs on debt-ridden residents and businesses more than more than 14,000 times last year.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request seen by the Gazette show more than 11,500 people and around 2,500 businesses were referred to debt collection agencies by Islington Council in the financial year 2012/13 – up 13 per cent on the previous year.

The numbers, relating to council tax and business rate debts, equate to around one out of every eight households in the borough – and one in four companies.

Bailiff referrals have gone up 82 per cent since 2009/10 – including a shocking 327 per cent rise in 2010/11 – which the opposition Lib Dem group say shows the council’s cavalier approach to debt collection.

However the ruling Labour group say 2009/10 was an unusually low year and that in general, apart from the spike in 2010/11, the figure is fairly constant.

Cllr John Gilbert, the Lib Dem finance spokesman, said: “Council bailiffs are being sent in more and more often while at the same time Labour say they are helping residents and businesses feeling the squeeze. This is total double-speak.

“A 327 per cent increase in bailiff use as soon as Labour took control of the council is just incredible. You have to ask whether they are sending them in too quickly and too often to just chase small amounts of money that could be recovered through negotiation.

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“The council has pledged rightly not to take eviction action against its tenants who fall into rent arrears because of changes to housing benefit. So why are they picking on people paying their council tax and struggling local businesses?”

Gillian Guy, chief executive of the charity citizens advice said: “I’m concerned that in some cases councils are too quick to pass debts to bailiffs. Half of people we help with bailiffs problems are families with children. A bailiff turning up at the doorstep of your home is frightening.

She added: “They need to recognise the current squeeze on household finances. If a family is struggling to pay their council tax bill it is quite likely they are battling other bills too. It should be an alarm bell for the authority that people need help.”

Cllr Richard Watts, Islington Council’s executive member for children and families, said: “The use of bailiffs is very much last resort in cases where people owe the council money.

“These are tough times for people and we do have a duty to collect this money, because otherwise it’s not fair on those who do pay.

“However, Lib Dem opposition is just the usual hypocrisy we have come to expect. Bailiff use now is in fact very similar to when the Lib Dems were in power, and the policy we use for debt collection was written by them.”