Posted: 26 March 2015

We can stop council tax debt collection from harming children

As we reveal in our new report The Wolf at the Door: How council tax debt collection is harming children, children and teenagers across the country are feeling sad, frightened and worried due to routinely coming face to face with bailiffs in their own homes, sent by the local council to demand sudden, unrealistic council tax payments.

Our research found that over 1.3 million bailiff referrals were made for council tax last year. More than half of 10- to 18–year-olds living in households facing council tax debt have answered the phone to a bailiff, and 70% of parents who have experienced bailiff visits whilst children are in the home said the bailiff’s behaviour was threatening, scary or aggressive.

A year's payment due in 14 days

Last year, we revealed in our Debt Trap report that councils can be one of the most uncompromising organisations when it comes to collecting debt. Our new report reinforces this, with families and care leavers telling us how councils often demand the full year’s council tax amount just 14 days after a family or young person misses their first monthly bill, pushing court summons or the threat of bailiffs soon after.

One young care-leaver, age 21, told us: ‘I was late making a payment and they sent me a reminder letter and they said if they had to send me anymore reminder letters then I have to go to court and they stopped my instalments. I got really worried and really panicky because I didn't understand, I didn't want to go to court.’

A number of people began struggling with council tax payments soon after Council Tax Benefit was replaced by what are now called Council Tax Support schemes from April 2013.

A result of this change was many families and teenagers moving into independent living arrangements became liable for council tax payments for the first time. Even if the payments were small, this provided a shock to their finances that they have struggled to absorb.

One mother in council tax debt told us how the stress of the payments affected her family: ‘[My children] just knew that mummy was stressed and there were strange people at the door wanting things and most of the furniture and that got taken at that point.’

‘There were strange people at the door and most of the furniture got taken’

Families have told us that they feel there is a lack of available advice and support when they are struggling with council tax arrears. The number of families struggling with their council tax is mirrored by the growth in families seeking advice when their bills reach an unmanageable level.

Eight in 10 families responded to council tax debt by cutting back on essentials, such as food or heating.

A concerning correlation is that half of families we surveyed have borrowed money to pay council tax bills.

Help us change this

We are calling on councils to stop sending bailiffs to homes with children and teenagers.

Councils must prefer less damaging collection methods and enable families to put in place affordable repayment plans to help families or young people get safely back on their feet - without fear and intimidation.

Take action now by calling on your local council to stop sending bailiffs round to families with children. 

Take action

By David Ayre - Policy team