Bailiffs were called out to collect debts owed to Sunderland City Council on more than 300 occasions in the last financial year, according to new research.
New figures from the Money Advice Trust have shown the authority instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses in the city on 329 occasions in 2014/15.
The figures, were released as part of new campaign ‘Stop the Knock’ by the Money Advice Trust which aims to ensure bailiffs are only used as a last resort and improve the council’s debt collection practices.
In Sunderland, the number of debts passed to bailiffs was equivalent to 0.24% of properties in the area, ranking the council at 319 out of 326 for local authority bailiff use in England and Wales.
Coun Mel Speding, Sunderland City Council Cabinet Secretary said: “When it comes to the Council Tax, for example, the people of Sunderland are very good payers and the City Council has consistently high collection rates.
“The council sees the use of bailiffs as very much a last resort.”
This figure is comparatively low compared to its neighbouring authority- South Tyneside Council which referred 3,282 debts to bailiffs in the same 12 month period.
Susan White, advice services manager from Citizens Advice in Sunderland, said the council arrears are a big area of debt and the low figure of bailiffs deployed in the city reflects the good relationship the charity has with the council.
She said: “We try to work with the council to try to prevent bailiffs coming out in the first place and that is why the figures are so low in comparison with our neighbours.”
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “Bailiff action is not only harmful to those in arrears – it is also a poor deal for the council taxpayer.
“Our research shows that the councils who use bailiffs the most are actually less effective at collecting council tax arrears.
“That’s why we are urging councillors to consider ways they can continue to improve the council’s debt collection practices, and ensure that bailiffs are only used as an absolute last resort.
For advice visit: www.nationaldebtline.org or by phoning 0808 808 4000.