The Government changed the law to protect people from rogue bailiffs while at the same time making sure that debts can still be collected effectively and fairly.
On 6 April 2014, legislation came into effect that changed the way enforcement agents (formerly known as bailiffs) collect Council Tax and Non-Domestic Rate arrears. The enforcement agent will send a ‘notice of enforcement’ letter by post, telephone, email or SMS text to encourage payment of the outstanding Non Domestic arrears.
The notice of enforcement letter will include a £75 ‘Compliance Stage’ fee and will clearly show how and where to make payment or a payment arrangement. It will also give information about where to get help and advice. The legislation allows the enforcement agent to take their £75 fee first, from any payment arrangement that is agreed.
This means that, if a payment is sent direct to the council, the enforcement agent will still contact the customer to collect their £75 fee. At this stage, the fee will not increase from £75 and enforcement agents will not be knocking on anyone’s door.
In the past, some of our customers have stated they did not receive a letter that we or the bailiff had sent. Under the legislation, the enforcement agent does not have to prove that the customer has received their letter; but they do have to prove that they posted it. We will ensure our enforcement agents have a robust procedure to prove letters were posted and this will mean they can defend any challenges in court, if necessary.
We strongly encourage anyone with Council Tax or Business Rates arrears to contact us straight away to set up a payment arrangement. Customers who do not contact us and receive a letter from the enforcement agent must contact the number shown on the letter without delay. Customers who ignore the letter from the enforcement agent will move on to the ‘enforcement stage’. This involves a home visit from the enforcement agent and there will be extra fees of at least £235. If the arrears are above £1,500, the enforcement stage fees are even higher.
Anyone who already has a debt with the bailiff should contact them immediately to arrange payment before these new fees come in to effect.
Debt recovery and vulnerable people
Who is a vulnerable person? For the purposes of local authority debt recovery, we believe it is someone whose vulnerability makes it extremely difficult for them to make payment or a payment arrangement.
The enforcement agents are trained to recognise vulnerable people so that they can adopt an appropriate approach. A vulnerable debtor will be referred to a welfare officer who will seek to engage with the debtor and will ask for evidence of vulnerability to be provided.
Where vulnerability is confirmed, the officer will negotiate a mutually acceptable payment arrangement or refer the debtor to agencies that can offer support. The officer will also report to the council who will ensure only appropriate action is taken.