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
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