23 June, 2021
New figures released today by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government reveal that, as of 31 March 2021, there was £4.4 billion of historic council tax outstanding in England, an increase of £841 million from 2019-20.
In response, StepChange Debt Charity has warned that councils must not resort to aggressive tactics to recoup this debt and has urged Government to introduce legislation to prevent counterproductive bailiff action.
Adam Butler, Public Policy Manager at StepChange Debt Charity, said:
“These stats underline how the pandemic has left many households facing increased financial difficulty. StepChange’s own research shows 4.3 million people are behind on household bills, with nearly 2 in 5 people affected by Covid falling behind on their council tax.
“While councils have a duty to pursue this unpaid tax, they also have a responsibility to ensure methods are proportionate and take into account an individual’s ability to repay. Too often, this responsibility is not met, with councils still too quick to pass council tax debts to bailiffs.
"As these arrears are recouped, councils must ensure they do not fall back into old aggressive methods of collection, particularly for households with low incomes like those in receipt of council tax support.
“Meanwhile, the Government has made it clear it will take a cautious approach to collecting debts from businesses hit by Covid; individuals struggling with arrears should be afforded no less flexibility.
"This can be achieved by introducing a binding pre-enforcement protocol for council tax arrears that prevents counterproductive enforcement action and requires a fair and constructive approach to debt collection for financially and otherwise vulnerable people.
"Financial support through the temporary increase in Hardship Funding, which has been used to reduce council tax bills for those least able to pay during the pandemic, should also be made permanent.”
Notes to Editors
StepChange has previously responded to a call for evidence on changes to government debt management.