'Get advice, not bailiffs'.
Byline: Laura Love Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
BAILIFFS were instructed by Middlesbrough Council nearly 11,000 times in one year to collect debts.
In 2014, the authority made 10,994 bailiff referrals in an attempt to collect debts owed by individuals and businesses. Of these, 9,018 were for council tax debts, 842 for parking, 483 for housing benefit, 168 for business rates, and 483 for commercial rent.
The figures, released following a Freedom of Information request by the Money Advice Trust, mean the council is ranked 27 out of 326 for local authority bailiff use in England and Wales, relative to size of authority. They also represent an increase of 100% on figures from 2012, when the council reported 5,498 referrals.
The research was conducted as part of the Money Advice Trust's National Debtline Stop The Knock campaign and follows the release of offi-cial figures last month which showed that Middlesbrough Council ended the 2014/15 year with PS14.6m in unpaid council tax arrears.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust said: "Local councils are facing signifi-cant funding pressures - and they of course have a duty to collect what they are owed. In the case of council tax this is crucial in ensuring proper funding for the services that local people rely on.
"The council's use of bailiffs, however, remains too high. On the front line of debt advice we know that sending the bailiffs in can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them - and it can also have a severe impact on the wellbeing of people who are often already in a vulnerable situation.
"Bailiff action is not only harmful to those in arrears - it is also a poor deal for the council taxpayer. Our research shows that the councils who use bailiffs the most are actually less effective at collecting council tax arrears.
"That's why we are urging councillors to consider ways they can improve the council's debt collection practices, and ensure that bailiffs are only used as an absolute last resort.
"I would urge anyone in Middlesbrough who is struggling to cope with council tax arrears, or any other type of debt, to seek free advice from National Debtline as soon as possible."
Last year National Debtline provided advice to 266 residents in Middlesbrough.
The charity has since 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.
The damage to Chocolini's shop in Saltburn, above, and the car involved, inset