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Brent Council blasted for calling in the bailiffs on struggling families

PUBLISHED: 16:05 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 16:35 20 March 2014

Residents confront Cllr Muhammed Butt outside Willesden Magistrates' Court (pic credit: Myron Jobson)

Residents confront Cllr Muhammed Butt outside Willesden Magistrates' Court (pic credit: Myron Jobson)

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Brent Council have come under fire for calling the bailiffs on more than a quarter of vulnerable residents who have fallen into council tax arrears.

An email leaked to the Times shows the town hall used enforcement agencies to handle late payments from 836 households.

According to council policy, bailiff action would be taken if no payment arrangements have been made; if tax payers are not meeting the payment arrangement; or if the council has not been contacted.

The figure amounts to 27 per cent of the 3,349 bill payers who were ordered to appear in court last November over the unpaid bills which have been blamed on changes to the benefits system.

Joanna Kennedy, chief executive of Z2K, a charity which supports the poor, said: “Despite the fact that the council’s policy states that deductions from earnings or benefits is the preferred method of recovery in cases this does not appear to be happening in practice.

“We believe that bailiff action is not appropriate for low income families as the bailiff fees serve to increase a relatively small debt and simply make it harder for the debtor to repay.

“Brent urgently needs to clarify why these cases have been referred to bailiffs contrary to their stated policy.”

Since April last year, all residents of working age must make a contribution to their bills after the government abolished the benefit scheme and replaced it by putting the control in the hands of local authorities.

The council claim the changes left them with a £6m black hole to plug which meant they had to rewrite the eligibility rules.

While pensioners are exempt, residents on low wages who would previously qualify for Council Tax Benefit entitlement would have to pay a portion of their bill.

Sujata Aurora, of Brent Housing Action, told the Times bailiff action is exacerbating the cost of living crisis, particular on resident who receiving benefits.

She added: “The council needs to take the advice of Hilary Benn, Labour Shadow Minister for Communities; call off the bailiffs and take another look at this policy of making the poor pay.”

Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, said: “We only involve bailiffs as a very last resort.

“We want people who are struggling with Council Tax bills to contact us so we can come to a reasonable arrangement, taking into account their circumstances. If claimants engage with us we can work with them to resolve their situation.”

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