Scheme stopping bailiffs has helped people manage £138,000 of debt
PUBLISHED: 13:00 15 July 2016
A pilot scheme in part of Weston-super-Mare for people struggling with bills and facing the threat of bailiffs may be extended across North Somerset.
Last year, North Somerset Councillor Ian Parker discovered the authority had sent the bailiffs round people’s houses in 7,589 cases to collect council tax. Of those, 1,140 cases were on Weston’s Bournville, Coronation and Oldmixon estates.
Cllr Parker decided to see if there was a less heavy-handed way of recouping council tax from people who were struggling to pay.
The council has been working with Liberata, which collects tax on behalf of the council, and the North Somerset Citizens Advice service on an alternative scheme in that part of Weston for the past six months.
It has involved a drop-in service which has helped people manage more than £138,000 of household debt and resolve personal issues.
Fiona Cope, chief officer of Citizens Advice North Somerset, said: “In extreme cases our clients have been in such despair over their debts they have considered suicide.
“Of the residents surveyed within the scheme, 100 per cent said they did not think their situation would have improved without this help.
“They are now more engaged within their communities, holding down jobs or looking for employment and less likely to suffer from physical and mental health-related issues as a consequence of being in debt.”
Under the scheme, anyone who reaches a council tax debt of £150 is visited by someone from the authority who offers help and advice.
Previously, support was only available to those who had reached the bailiff stages in court proceedings – and this often resulted in causing more stress and making it more difficult for people to pay their debts.
After the success of the project, the council is now considering rolling it out across North Somerset.
Cllr David Pasley, executive member responsible for tax collection, said: “We are pleased that this trial approach, that we’ve piloted in part of Weston with Citizens Advice and Liberata, has had such a positive impact.
“Taking these steps to adapt our approach to council collection has proved successful and we are particularly pleased at the results for those residents who are on low incomes or vulnerable.”
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