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New guidelines for council tax arrears collection launched

Tuesday, 11th December 2018

The Money Advice Service (MAS) has launched new guidance aimed at improving Local Authorities Council Tax collection procedures. The guide suggests a more progressive approach rather than the current aggressive tone used in the recovery of Council Tax.

Research by MAS reveals a third of people seeking debt advice have Council Tax arrears and believes this trend will only increase. This has in turn contributed to a rise in debt enforcement activity from some Local Authorities, increasing the use of enforcement officers (bailiffs) during the time the debt advice sector has campaigned for a fairer approach.

The resource is modelled on best practice examples from councils in England and Wales. Already 10 councils in England and Wales are using the guidance and the aim is to encourage best practice methods across all of the 348 councils. MAS say that the councils currently using the progressive guidance and are working with debt advice agencies tend to collect a high percentage of monies owed as well as supporting better outcomes for residents.

The main pointers of the guidance

  • Build MAS recommendations into Council Tax revenues policies and use the MAS pre-enforcement checklist to create a fair and consistent approach to use of enforcement
  • Support financial statements from debt advice agencies based on the Standard Financial Statement (SFS) spending guidelines and align all internal affordability processes with the SFS
  • Use the toolkit to review all resident channels and help appropriate residents to easily access independent debt advice
  • Track the benefits debt advice brings to residents as well as their ability to collect arrears payments
  • Have oversight of what happens to residents after debt advice referral, agreeing on an approach with debt advice referral partners
  • Have day-to-day contact with debt advice agencies, utilising MAS guidance on getting the most from the relationship
  • Our resource shares some examples and case studies of innovative partnership working with debt advice agencies

Caroline Siarkiewicz, Head of Debt Advice from the Money Advice Service, commented:

“We hope to shine a light on good practices that can be adopted across all councils to ensure more take a progressive approach that supports residents and helps them to maintain ongoing commitments.”

Yvonne Fovargue MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Debt and Personal Finance, commented:

“Some debt collection practices, particularly the use of bailiffs, make matters worse not better. The toolkit put together by MAS takes a different approach, emphasising collaboration, engagement and affordability, and I warmly welcome its introduction’.

Mike Thomas, Founder of DebtWizard, commented:

“This new 'progressive' toolkit is good news but it is voluntary so not compulsory and currently only 10 out of the 348 councils ere using it. Hopefully it will catch on and we will see a lot more councils adopt this approach next year. I support the move by MAS but let's see where we are with this later on next year and if this can be added to the current enforcement/bailiff reforms review."

"Unfortunately, some people either forget or do not realise that Council tax is a priority debt and non payment can be very serious. This has to be paid in advance of any credit/store card, bank loan/overdraft or payday loan, basically before you think about paying your unsecured debts. I have known of several instances where people have been made bankrupt by their local council, this has led to the home being repossessed."

"Those struggling with this form of debt need to get professional help and advice fast before the matter gets out of hand and with thousands of pounds in legal fees and interest added.”

Full MAS press release here

Related reading

How council tax arrears of £5,000 could easily cost the home owner £20,000 in as little as three years
Council tax problems - 5 ways to help you pay

 

 

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