UK household debt balloons to £19bn as bailiff problems multiply, new figures show

UK households have fallen behind on essential bills such as council tax and electricity by as much as £18.9bn, according to Citizens Advice, which says it helps someone with bailiff-related problems every three minutes.

The total outstanding debt includes almost £7.5bn in tax credit overpayments, £2.84bn owed in council tax and £2.2bn owed to water companies.

Household debt has now overtaken consumer credit as the main money problem people contact Citizens Advice about, and the charity said that falling behind on household bills “has more severe consequences than missing consumer credit repayments”, such as overdrafts and personal loans.

The charity said it had seen a 24 per cent increase in bailiff problems since the government introduced reforms in 2014 that were meant to protect people from unfair bailiff practices.

Under the reforms, bailiffs are no longer allowed to make late-night visits to collect debts, and are prevented from using force against people who owe money, amongst other rules.

However, Citizens Advice said it had been contacted by one retired couple who fell behind on their essential bills for the first time in their life and ended up owing £700 in council tax.

Bailiffs who came to collect the debt were “aggressive” and demanded the full amount immediately, threatening to call the police if they did not receive the payment, with the result that the couple “are now afraid to open their front door”.

Its data shows that people with household bill debt are 37 per cent more likely to be out of full-time employment and almost one in three have a mental health problem.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “One person every three minutes come to us for help with bailiff issues. Families are living in fear of a visit from the bailiffs, and small missed bills can skyrocket through excessive enforcement fees.

“Our evidence shows aggressive tactics by bailiffs cause huge distress and can even push people further into debt. Families are going without essentials like food or electricity to meet their payments.”

Ms Guy added: “The Ministry of Justice has already announced a call for evidence into aggressive collection practices by bailiffs. They must use this to take strong action and introduce an independent bailiff regulator to fix this broken system.”

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