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25 June, 2020 Open access

Debt charities warn of August ‘debt D-day’ unless government takes action to facilitate council tax recovery outside the court process

Given the scale of financial difficulty as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, government also urged not to lift the ban on bailiff visits until further protections are in place

The Money Advice Trust, StepChange and Citizens Advice have warned the government of an August 'debt D-day' unless it takes action to facilitate council tax recovery outside the court process.

Highlighting that legislation which came into effect on 24 June 2020 means that the ban on face-to-face bailiff collection (which was introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic) will come to an end on 23 August 2020 - the same day as protections from eviction end for people in the private rented sector - the three charities warn of potentially huge problems for those behind on council tax.

Writing to the Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government Simon Clarke, the charities call for a change to the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1999 to give councils more flexibility to recover debts in an affordable way outside the court process, and to ensure they offer affordable repayment plans to residents. In addition, they stress - 

'Given the scale of financial difficulty during the covid-19 crisis, we would urge the government to not lift the ban on bailiff visits until further protections are in place.'

Chief Executive of StepChange Phil Andrew said today - 

'As things stand, there is a fundamental disconnect between the way in which enforcement against debts like council tax is being restarted and the way in which regulated lenders are expected and required to behave by the Financial Conduct Authority, with a clear focus on realistic affordability and fair treatment. It’s simply not right that, after everything we’ve experienced through the pandemic, the resumption of council tax debt collection and enforcement seems set to resume on a 'business as usual' basis.

Improving council tax debt collection needs to be part of the Government’s wider post-Covid financial recovery strategy. If ever there was a time to grasp the nettle and reform the outdated mechanisms that hinder local authorities from adopting a more compassionate, flexible and realistic way of reaching affordable repayment plans on council tax, now is surely that moment.'

For more information and a copy of the letter to the Minister see Charities call for council tax reform ahead of August debt D-Day from stepchange.org