Payments to Leeds City Council bailiffs double

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The amount of money collected by bailiffs working on behalf of Leeds City Council has more than doubled in the space of three years.

A Freedom of Information request reveals that enforcement agents – also known as bailiffs – took a total of £3.4m in fees over a four year period, when collecting unpaid council tax on behalf of the local authority.

The amount of unpaid tax collected by bailiffs for the council only rose from £20.5m in 2013/14 to £21.4m in 2016/17 – a rise of just over four per cent.

However, the fees collected by the agents from debtors rose from £508,000 to £1.1m during that period – a rise of 116 per cent.

Enforcement agents, are paid their fees through extra charges to the individual they are collecting the debt from.

Charities have said this is inefficient and not cost effective.

Andy Shaw, debt advice co-ordinator at Leeds-based debt charity StepChange, said: “Councils need to take a greater approach of forbearance and get people to pay back what they owe. They (enforcement agents) give councils longer to wait.”

Councils are able to retrieve council tax once a liability order has been made by a magistrates court – this gives them the power to use enforcement agents to retrieve the money. A previous Yorkshire Evening Post investigation showed the authority had been granted more than 220,000 liability orders in the past five years.

A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said it had a legal duty to take appropriate steps to collect outstanding council tax, and use methods such as payment arrangement and attachments to earnings or benefits to retrieve money.  “In some cases though these methods aren’t feasible or the debtor refuses to engage with us, in which case the use of enforcement agents is the only option.”