Children ‘fearful’ of bailiff’s knock

27 March 2015

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THOUSANDS of children are living in fear of a visit from the bailiff because their parents have fallen into arrears over their council tax, a new report from the Children's Society, The Wolf at the Door, suggests.

Nine out of ten parents surveyed by the Children's Society said that their children had been frightened and worried as a result of a visit from a bailiff.

Also, after a visit, children were twice as likely to say that there had been arguments in the family about money. Children whose families had fallen into council-tax debt were also 50 per cent more likely to suffer from depression, compared with children from families who had not faced council-tax debt.

The report criticises local authorities for being too quick and heavy handed in response to council-tax debt: some councils initiate legal action in 14 days.

Council-tax debt is widespread -more than one in ten families in the UK have experienced it, with average arrears reaching £420. Government cuts to council-tax support have coincided with a 25-per-cent increase in households' falling behind on their council tax; a 33-per-cent increase in court summonses; and, among almost 100 councils, a rise in the use of bailiffs.

Based on a survey of 4500 parents, and Freedom of Information responses from local authorities, the report states that councils across England sent out bailiffs 1.3 million times last year. One in five families in council-tax debt received a visit from a bailiff.

The chief executive of the Children's Society, Matthew Reed, said: "Our report reveals that far too many families are failed by their council when they fall behind with their council tax. Councils are more likely to refer a family in council-tax debt to a bailiff than to an independent debt adviser, which is not acceptable. Bailiffs should simply not be sent round to families with children. Instead, councils should give struggling residents a chance to negotiate affordable repayments, and make sure every family in trouble is offered independent debt advice. Every child and teenager deserves to feel safe in their own home without being scared of the next knock at the door."

Homeless teenagers housed in B&Bs. Further research by the Children's Society, published last week, suggested that thousands of homeless 16- and 17-year-olds are turned down for housing by their local council - some without being assessed. And those who are accommodated are likely to be placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, despite government guidelines that say it is unsuitable.

The Society has published a series of recommendations for councils.

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