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Huge rise in councils using bailiffs to recover unpaid rent

Some local authorities are quick to criticise private landlords for trying to avoid rent arrears but it appears councils themselves have been getting tougher.

The BBC reports that referrals to bailiffs in England and Wales to recover unpaid council debts have risen by nearly 20 per cent.

The bailiffs are seeking to recover debts built up through unpaid council housing rent, council tax, business rates and multiple parking fines.


The BBC Radio 4 programme File on 4 submitted a Freedom of Information request asking councils for the number of referrals made between April 2023 and October 2023.

The BBC’s online story says: Birmingham's 500 per cent rise in referrals between 2022 and 2023 topped the list of 280 councils that replied to a File on 4 Freedom of Information request. Figures suggest there is £500m of uncollected public debt each year, adding to councils' strained finances.”

Birmingham - the Labour controlled authority which recently declared itself to be ‘effectively bankrupt’ - made 43,283 referrals over the seven-month period in 2023. The BBC says that was nearly six times the equivalent figure for the same period in 2022 of 7,875 (adjusted for comparison).

The report continues: “With many councils across England and Wales in financial dire straits every penny is needed to maintain essential services.

The File on 4 programme also looks at allegedly underhand tactics used by bailiffs, and at another council which recovers debts without bailiffs.

You can see the BBC story here.

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  • icon

    People who fail to pay council tax / rent are usually struggling to pay ALL their bills. Sending in the bailiffs is really not the answer unless they are failing to pay when easily able to. Taking someone's goods & selling them at knock down prices just pushes them into more debt as they try to replace them. Councils need to engage with these families & help them avoid homelessness, which then puts all the costs back on the council!


    Agree in part Tricia, my job means I come in contact with people mentioned here, a lot of their debt and inability to pay their way comes from either substance abuse or mental health issues, or both often. Their lifestyle chosen from years ago has brought them to where they currently are, going down the wrong route in year 8 or 9 at school tends to lead to a life of inactivity and crime, this then snakes it’s way to bailiffs. Not all, but a great many I meet, a lot that have a similar background, it’s a cycle, and once on it, it is very difficult to exit.


    I used to work in a LA housing department and despite advice and support there will be some who will not manage to resolve their rent arrears issues. I used to visit, give budgeting and benefits advice, and sometimes we would arrange direct payments from employers. We would apply for a court order and if the terms were broken we would evict. If sale of assets can avoid eviction (classed as intentional homelessness) and act as a warning I would support it. However I suspect most of these bailiff applications are for council tax.


    That’s exactly what the council tells us! We ought to send them the same response.

    “Don’t evict your tenants, see if you can work out a payment plan. Is £2.50 a month good?”


    sorry i disagree people who don't pay their way should have their goods away from them

  • Peter Lewis

    I think that anyone who says they can’t afford to pay their rent should not have to pay it. I also think that any one who doesn’t pay their Council tax should be let off. I think that any one who has five children and can’t afford to feed them should be given the food for nothing from the shops. I think that anyone who can’t afford to pay their energy bills should have energy given to them for nothing. I think that the rest of us should support these non payers for the rest of their lives. I think that I am going mad.


    " I think that the rest of us should support these non payers for the rest of their lives." Sadly, Peter, we already do.


    Not had such a laugh for several days; can you do a similar reply to all the issues that are raised?

  • icon

    Hahaha now that the local authorities are beginning to feel the pinch, they have all of a sudden become less “open minded” about their tenants situation.

    Perhaps work out a payment plan? Sit down and discuss what steps can be taken? Consider giving them a month’s worth of rent on the house to ease the stress? Maybe help make them a CV? Work with your tenants, council!

  • icon

    Where do people the council evict go to live?


    In a shop door way


    Usually the Council (stupidly) re-houses them.

  • icon

    Quite frankly the councils often allow rent arrears in order to curry favour with their tenants.


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