Council tax changes are ‘needed now’ as payment debts reach £3.6billion – are you in debt?

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Council tax is paid by most people who are 18 or over and own or rent the home they’re living in. In some instances, people may fall behind with their payments which can create a worrying debt problem.

New official figures have revealed that £3.6billion in council tax was owed before the coronavirus outbreak.

This was an increase of £345million when compared to the previous year and could be made worse by the pandemic.

The Money Advice Trust responded to the figures, urging the government to make changes to the way local authorities are able to collect council tax debt.

The call comes as the government’s temporary ban on bailiff visits is set to expire this Sunday (August 23).

The charity and other debt organisations fear that more households will be pushed into financial difficulty if the changes are not made.

The Money Advice Trust detailed that figures from the Local Government Association estimated that over £500million of council tax went unpaid during the first three months of the outbreak.

This figure could mean 1.3 million households are likely to have built up council tax arrears because of Coronavirus.

They warned that current government regulations allow councils to use “heavy-handed” tactics to collect outstanding debts.

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This could include involving bailiffs, which can add further stress and additional fees and charges.

Specifically, the charity has called for the following changes to be made:

  • Introduce a ‘pre-action protocol’ for councils to follow before beginning to enforce council tax recovery. This would include a requirement to set up an affordable repayment plan
  • Stop people becoming automatically liable for their entire annual bill when they fall behind on instalments
  • Encourage councils to collect debts over more than one year by changing collection rate targets
  • Provide more hardship funding to councils to reduce council tax arrears accrued as a result of Covid-19

These changes may need to be introduced very quickly if they’re to have an impact.

This is because bailiff visits will soon recommence following a temporary ban.

Bailiff visits are more prevalent than some may expect, with the Money Advice Trust revealing that 1.4 million council tax debts were passed to bailiffs by councils in England and Wales in 2018/19.

Jane Tully, a director of external affairs and partnerships, at the Money Advice Trust, commented on the figures: “These new figures show the scale of council tax arrears even before Covid-19 hit.

“The impact of the outbreak means many more households have already fallen behind – leaving millions at risk, particularly if councils continue down collection routes that can push residents further into financial difficulty.

“The government has to move quickly to ensure local authorities are able to collect council tax debt in a fair and proportionate way.

“This needs to include changing collection rules to ensure people are given the time they need to repay and introducing a ‘pre-action protocol’ councils would be required to follow before starting enforcement action.

“With the government’s ban on council tax bailiff visits set to end this Sunday, we also need to see urgent guidance put in place to protect people from bailiff action as the Coronavirus outbreak continues to impact households. Without this government guidance, the ban on bailiff visits should not be allowed to expire.”

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