Burnley Borough Council instructed bailiffs 3,772 times to collect debts owed by individuals and businesses during 2014/15, according to new research by the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline.
Experts says the figure, revealed by the council in response to a Freedom of Information request, shows that more needs to be done to help those in financial difficulty at an earlier stage.
The research was conducted as part of National Debtline’s new Stop The Knock campaign and follows the release of official figures last month showing that Burnley Borough Council ended the 2014/15 year with £5.4 m. in unpaid council tax arrears. In total, councils in England and Wales instructed bailiffs 2.1 million times for debts including council tax, parking, business rates and other arrears – an increase of 16% on two years ago when the Money Advice Trust last researched the issue.
The findings rank Burnley Borough Council at 85 out of 326 for local authority bailiff use in England and Wales, relative to size of authority.
The 3772 bailiff referrals made by Burnley Borough Council in 2014/15 represents a decrease of 47% on two years ago, when the council reported 7066 referrals in the 2012 calendar year. Experts at National Debtline welcomed the fall, but said that the authority needs to do more to decrease its reliance on bailiffs as a means of collecting debts.
The charity is calling for bailiffs, now known legally as enforcement agents, to be used only as a last resort, with a greater focus on preventative work and early detection and intervention where residents and businesses fall behind.
Last year National Debtline provided free, independent advice to 96 residents in the Burnley area, and says it wants to help many more who are struggling financially in the area.
The charity has written to the Leader of the Council with details of its latest research on bailiff use, and to call for improvements to debt collection practices to make sure people who are struggling get the free advice they need.