THE number of occasions Bolton Council used bailiffs to collects debts has fallen in the past three years, it has been revealed

Research carried out by the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, shows that in 2016/17, the council instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 8,788 occasions — a fall of 4.8 per cent since 2014/15.

The charity’s new report, Stop The Knock 2017, found that council tax debts were passed to bailiffs by Bolton Council on 7,134 occasions, while parking notices were passed on 999 times and business rates 655 times.

Council tax debts accounted for 81.2 per cent of all call-outs, higher than the national average of 60 per cent.

Across England and Wales, the use of bailiffs, also known as enforcement agents, by local authorities has jumped by 14 per cent in two years, despite government guidance stating that bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort.

More than 2.3 million debts were passed to bailiffs in 2016/17 according to the research, based on Freedom of Information requests.

However, the Money Advice Trust says that an increasing number of councils are working hard to improve their debt collection practices — and that four in 10 (38 per cent) actually reduced their reliance on bailiffs in that time, including Bolton.

The research also shows that Bolton Council signposts residents in financial difficulty to free debt advice, and that they are one of 23 councils in England which have introduced a policy of exempting residents on the lowest incomes, who receive Council Tax Support, from bailiff action altogether.

However, they are one of almost half of councils (44 per cent) which have no formal policy for dealing with residents in vulnerable circumstances when collecting debts.

A spokesperson for Bolton Council said: “We only use enforcement agents or bailiffs as a last resort after we have tried every other means of collecting the money owed.

"If people are struggling to pay, we encourage them to contact us so we can check if they are entitled to any benefits or other reductions, and to agree a repayment arrangement they can afford.

"We also ensure our residents receive free debt advice by referring them to either our money skills service in the Town Hall or other agencies.

"If all else fails, we attempt to use other methods of collection, such as deductions from benefits and attachment of earnings for council tax arrears, before finally referring cases to enforcement agents.

"Although we haven’t yet published a formal policy for dealing with vulnerable residents, we always review the circumstances of each case before passing the debt to the council’s enforcement agent to collect.

"We continue to remain focussed on helping residents at an early stage to avoid them getting into arrears.”

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said:

"The growing use of bailiffs to collect debts by many local authorities is deeply troubling. Councils are under enormous financial pressure, and they of course need to recover what they are owed in order to fund vital services.

"However, many councils are far too quick to turn to bailiff action – which we know can seriously harm the wellbeing of residents who are often already in vulnerable situations. It can also push people even further into debt.

“Bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention.

Bolton Council’s figure is less than that of their Wigan and Salford counterparts, who called out bailiffs on 22,423 and 11,512 occasions respectively, but is still higher than Bury Council, which called out bailiffs on 5,329 occasions.

National Debtline offers free debt advice at