The Mayor and Bristol City Council must use fairer and more effective ways to collect debt. The Cable is launching a campaign to #bootoutbailiffs.
Getting an unannounced visit from bailiffs demanding money is like something out of a gritty British drama. But for thousands of people in our communities it’s all too real. And these bailiffs are sent by the council.
In the past two years, Bristol City Council has outsourced the collection of over 25,000 council tax debts to four private bailiff firms operating in the city. Behind each account is an individual or family struggling with debt.
In addition to the well documented negative effects of bailiff enforcement on children especially, hundreds of pounds are added to people’s bills to pay the bailiffs, pushing Bristolians further into debt, and into the hands of payday lenders and worse.
We know that at a time of devastating cuts imposed by central government it is crucial for the council to collect the millions in outstanding council tax payments. However, calls are mounting for a rethink on the use of bailiffs as a tool to do so. And there are fairer and effective alternatives.
For example, as of April this year, the London council of Hammersmith and Fulham will no longer use bailiffs to collect council tax debts. In what they have described as a “revolutionary, new joint venture”, the council has partnered with Intrum, a self-styled ethical debt collection agency that claims to have fair methods of recovering money. Crucially, they say the new approach isn’t solely about reducing distress, but by using a more tailored approach they are confident that the amounts collected will rise and reduce the knock on burdens for public services.
It it yet to be seen how well the initiative will work out, and it may not be the best solution. But we know for sure that the only real winners in Bristol’s current setup are the bailiffs and loan sharks waiting in the wings. This must change.
At our 2017 Annual General Meeting, members said we should campaign on key issues in the city. Taking that lead, the Cable is adding our voice to growing calls to introduce debt collection policies that are better for families, communities and public services.
Now, we’re calling on the Mayor and all political parties to commit to investigating alternative methods of collecting council tax, and begin a complete phase out of the use of bailiffs.
Our campaign will include a series of investigations, strong voices and compelling arguments for alternatives, as we bring together individuals and organisations across the city who know that booting out the bailiffs is the right and necessary thing to do. Read the first investigation here.