Last week Citizens advice published a press release. The release follows the report joint published by Citizen’s advice and debt charity Stepchange. Speaking on behalf of Citizen’s Advice, Chief Exec Gillian Guy commented on council debt collection. He wrote:
“Too often we see the harm that's caused by debt enforcement practices. This including further financial hardship increases stress. The pursuit of government debt by authorities has also been criticised by MPs."
"Good collection practices by local authorities can work. By helping those who are struggling to meet their payments, councils can improve their collection rates.”
"While voluntary approaches are welcome, protection to the people from bad practices must happen. We believe the government needs to establish an independent bailiff regulator."
Debt collection and mental health
The report prompted our response recently supporting the findings. We agree that too early are bailiffs and high court officers drafted in. We also believe it is harsh to begin heavy handed practices against many vulnerable debtors. Council tax, rent and other taxes are payments many people consider first in their outgoings. However, if debtors are struggling to pay tax, it may be they are paying for food and basic living essentials first. With debtors facing this type of reality, aggressive practices may only push the debtors to breaking point.
Collectors at every level have a duty of care on both sides. We would suggest councils attempt mediation first. Having dealt with consumer debt for some time, we find talking a far better resolution than making demands. Having dealt with consumer debtors, we recommending payment plans ensuring money is going towards the debt. This is better than none; or the alternative which is paying the debt off and crippling the debtor entirely.
Debt collection timing
The timescale of debt collection is important to debtor wellbeing. Often creditors assume we will chase a debtor with force right from the off. This isn’t actually advised as the fastest paying debtors are always those that cooperate and are willing. Taxpayers are likely to be willing but need managing properly. This includes assessing the ability to pay at certain times of year. Christmas is, as expected, a difficult time for hard pressed families. As such we would advise councils to really ensure they think about this when chasing debtors.
AYOM General Manager Mrs M Mitchell spoke of debt collection at Christmas.
“It is still possible to be a successful collection agency around Christmas. Debts do need paying and different types of debts require different tactics.”
“When it comes to consumers or the general population, it takes our core values to have that success. We operate based on our values of
“We would never recommend legal action as a first option. It can be both inefficient from a cost perspective and inflict a lot of stress on the debtor. We wholly agree with the need to regulate and monitor collection practices with tax.”
“Should authorities wish to take advice on pre-legal recovery strategies; we welcome them to get in touch. We would like to ensure they get their money but also look after their constituents.”