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Protection from bailiffs for children and vulnerable people in Mendip

Mendip Liberal Democrat Councillors have won a vote to safeguard children and the vulnerable, including those suffering with serious physical or mental illness, from bailiffs in the Mendip Council area.

Councillors agreed a motion to only use bailiffs to collect Council Tax as an ‘absolute last resort’, and to place the tax collection and enforcement policy of the Conservative-led Council under review, in order to safeguard children and vulnerable people in future.

The motion, approved at Mendip’s Full Council on 22nd October, was proposed after local and national debt advice organisations raised concerns about the harmful effects of local authorities’ use of Enforcement Agents (bailiffs) to collect Council Tax from vulnerable households and families with children.

In March, the Children’s Society’s ‘The Wolf At The Door’ Report published evidence underlining the scale and seriousness of harm done by the use of bailiffs on families with children and young people.

In August, the Money Advice Trust’s ‘Stop The Knock’ report found that sending bailiffs in only deepens debt problems for people in financial difficulty. Citizens Advice also issued a nationwide call for councils to use ‘every other option’ to collect debts before resorting to bailiffs.

Mendip Citizens Advice Bureau‘s latest annual report also shows that debt is a major area of work for the charity in our area, and that Council Tax forms about 20% of the debt problems it deals with.

After it was revealed that Conservative-run Mendip Council referred Council Tax payment cases to bailiff companies 2,639 times in 2014/15, over 10 a day, the Lib Dem team at Mendip felt “compelled” to act.

Cllr Adam Boyden who led on the motion said, “Our team of Lib Dems felt very concerned that one in every 20 properties in Mendip District received a knock at the door from a bailiff, a higher proportion than any other district in Somerset.

“We firmly believe the Council can work better with debt advice agencies and charities to improve its tax collection policies in line with the official guidance issued two years ago. We want to see that people who are falling behind with payments receive the debt advice and support they need to make affordable payments, reducing the need for expensive court action. Heavy handed bailiffs should only ever be used as a last resort, and not used at all where vulnerable people and children are involved.

“We believe the council can collect the tax owed to it compassionately and responsibly, and reduce the amount owed to it in Council Tax.

“Thankfully, whilst six Conservative Councillors voted against our plans and 12 abstained, most councillors supported our proposals, which should considerably improve how people in genuine financial difficulties and vulnerable situations are dealt with in Mendip.

“As a result of the motion, the Council will now sign up to a good practice protocol with the CAB, and meet with local agencies who can help in its review.”

Local Liberal Democrat Councillors are encouraging anyone with experience of dealing with Mendip District Council’s debt collection agencies, or those with suggestions for ways in which Mendip’s practice can be improved, to contact Cllr Adam Boyden at aomboyden@yahoo.co.uk

 

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